Obama Says Russia Violating International Law

Mar 3, 2014

President Barack Obama says Russia is “on the wrong side of history” in Ukraine and its actions violate international law.

Obama told reporters in the Oval Office on Monday that the United States is considering economic and diplomatic options that will isolate Russia. The president called on Congress to work on an aid package to Ukraine and make it the “first order of business.”

Obama said continued military actions in Ukraine “will be a costly proposition for Russia.”

NPR’s Ron Elving joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the president’s remarks.


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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson, along with Meghna Chakrabarti. This is HERE AND NOW. And President Obama, just in the last hour, made extensive comments about the situation in Ukraine. He was speaking at the White House. He said Russia is on the wrong side of history, and he says the U.S. is looking at economic and diplomatic steps that can be taken to isolate Russia.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My interest is seeing the Ukrainian people be able to determine their own destiny. Russia has strong historic ties to the Ukraine. There are a lot of Russian nationals inside of Ukraine, as well as native Russians, as there are a lot of Ukrainians inside of Russia. There are strong commercial ties between those two countries.

And so all of those interests, I think, can be recognized. But what cannot be done is for Russia, with impunity, to put its soldiers on the ground and violate basic principles that are recognized around the world.

HOBSON: President Obama, speaking this afternoon at the White House. NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving is with us now to tell us more about what he said. And, Ron, what more did the president have to say?

RON ELVING, BYLINE: The president said that the actions being taken by the Putin regime through these men who suddenly appeared in Crimea and have surrounded the military bases of the Ukrainian forces there, who are the sovereign, legitimate military force in that part of the world, and who also took over just about every important building in the Crimea, all those people who have been connected now officially to the Russian military are in violation of international law, and that virtually everyone in the world has acknowledged that this is outside of international law, except, of course, for the Russians themselves and a few of their closer allies.

Number two, he said that the proper way for Putin to have responded to this Ukrainian set of developments in the last several weeks would have been to protect the interests of Russian nationals through the use of international monitors, not by invading the Crimea and threatening to invade the rest of Ukraine.

And then, finally, he said that this particular instance was eventually going to have to be resolved with cost to the Russians. That is to say the Russians are going to pay a price. The president was not terribly precise about it, but he said there were going to be great costs.

Yeah, well that is the big question, is: What exactly is the United States willing to do when it comes to those costs? Let's take a listen to a little more of the president. He said Russia is on the wrong side of history.


OBAMA: We are strongly supportive of the interim Ukrainian government. John Kerry is going to be traveling to Kiev to indicate our support for the Ukrainian people, to offer very specific and concrete packages of economic aid, because one of the things we're concerned about is stabilizing the economy, even in the midst of this crisis.

And what we are also indicating to the Russians is that if, in fact, they continue on the current trajectory that they're on, that we are examining a whole series of steps - economic, diplomatic - that will isolate Russia.

HOBSON: Ron, the president talking there about the money that Ukraine still needs. Of course, if you go back to the beginning of this crisis, before Russian troops were in Crimea, this was about the fact that Ukraine was on the verge of default, and they were trying to decide whether to take a package of aid from Russia or a package of aid from the West.

ELVING: That's right. Ukraine has been a kind of jump ball between the East and the West, between the European Union and NATO on their western border, and between their traditional ties to Russia. Now, what the president said was we're going to isolate by helping Ukraine, by helping them get out of their economic problems.

EU, the West and the United States are going to further isolate them from Russia. But it goes beyond that, because the president has already canceled a whole scheme of trade and military and energy meetings that were going to be taking place between the two countries. And a planned this visit this week by the U.S. trade representative to Moscow has been canceled. Our ambassador is already out of Moscow. And it looks like the G8 meeting that was going to happen in Sochi, Russia, where they had the Olympics earlier this winter, that's apparently not going to happen, or at least all the other countries in the G8 besides Russia are, well, suspending their preparations to participate.

HOBSON: And the president, in his remarks, also had a message for Congress. Let's listen.


OBAMA: You know, I've heard a lot of talk from Congress about what should be done, what they want to do. One thing they can do right away is to work with the administration to help by a package of assistance to the Ukrainians, to the people and their government. And when they get back in, assuming the weather clears, I would hope that that would be the first order of business. Because, at this stage, there should be unanimity among Democrats and Republicans that when it comes to preserving the principle that no country has the right to send in troops to another country unprovoked...

HOBSON: Ron, I know the president mentioned the weather there. Snow has shut down Washington today, for the most part. But will Congress take that up when it gets back?

ELVING: There'll be a great deal of talk from Congress when it gets back, and they're going to hit the subject, and they're going to hit it pretty hard. You know, we used to talk about politics ending at the water's edge. It probably never did. It certainly doesn't now. But when it does reach the water's edge, it usually gets more complicated.

HOBSON: NPR senior Washington editor, Ron Elving. Ron, thanks.

ELVING: Thank you, Jeremy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.