Obama Can’t Stop Putin’s Push Into Ukraine
Policy + Politics

Obama Can’t Stop Putin’s Push Into Ukraine

REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Tensions between the west and Russia over the Ukraine crisis escalated dramatically Saturday, as Russian troops entered Crimea after the Russian government authorized the Vladimir Putin to send military troops into Ukraine.

This led to a 90-minute phone call between President Obama in Putin in which Obama condemned Putin’s military action and called on the Russian president to withdraw his troops. And in a new development late Sunday afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry is now set to visit Kiev on Tuesday, in a show of support for the new Ukranian government, Politico has reported.

Related: Russian Ties to Ukraine Go Much Deeper than Gas

The White House said in an earlier statement, “President Obama made clear that Russia's continued violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would negatively impact Russia's standing in the international community.” 

Putin was defiant, telling Obama that Russia had the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers not only in Crimea, but also throughout Ukraine. Putin’s comments reflect a common Russia sentiment - Ukraine is not a country separate from Russia.

The Kremlin posted a statement online, saying, "In response to the concern shown by Obama about the plans for the possible use of Russia's armed forces on the territory of Ukraine, Putin drew attention to the provocative, criminal actions by ultra-nationalists, in essence encouraged by the current authorities in Kiev."

Ukraine’s Yegor Pyvovarov, the spokesman for the Ukraine mission at the United Nations, says there are now 15,000 Russian troops in Crimea. Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the U.N., rejected Pyvovarov’s calls to get out of the country, saying, “We can't agree with this at all," and blamed Western Europe for inciting the protest in Kiev which started the crisis. 

Details about events of the day were hard to confirm, with each hour bringing new reports of Russian activity. Elsewhere, in eastern Ukraine, pro-Russia protestors stormed government buildings and raised the Russia flag.

Related: Ukraine's 'Eastern Spring' Has a Chance to Blossom

President Obama promised consequences if “people stepped over the line.” Now that Russia is involved both politically and militarily, it’s hard to see what those consequences could be.

"I am deeply concerned that Russia's ongoing military intervention in Crimea may soon expand to eastern Ukraine," Sen. John McCain, who has met with pro-Europe protestors, said Saturday. "Yesterday, President Obama said that Russia would face 'costs' if it intervened militarily in Ukraine. It is now essential for the president to articulate exactly what those costs will be and to take steps urgently to impose them." 

Georgia, another former Soviet state that was invaded by Russia in 2008, shows just how little influence the United States has over Russia. Then, George W. Bush threatened consequences, but because of the limited ties between Washington and Moscow, he not able to do anything to stop Putin.

SLIDESHOW: 35 Intense Photos of the Ukraine Protests

Now, Obama is in a similar situation. He could try to kick Russia out of the Group of 8, cancel diplomatic meetings or cancel trade agreements. But this is likely to do little to stop Putin, who views Ukraine as a fundamental part of Russia. And the president isn’t likely to use force to protect a country that has few ties to America.

Perhaps the only thing that’s certain about Ukraine right now is that Russia has no plans to leave. 

"We have waited long and patiently hoping that Ukraine could manage on its own. But, unfortunately, it's become clear that without this help and support they cannot manage,” Valery Ryazansky, chairman of the Federation Council committee on social welfare, said Saturday.

This article was updated on Sunday, March 2, 2014, at 5:15 p.m.

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