Washington - US President Barack Obama told President
Vladimir Putin on Saturday that Russia's dispatch of troops to Ukraine flouted
international law and warned he was courting political isolation if the
Obama also spelled out the right of the Ukrainian people to
chart their own destiny and symbolically began to line up the long-time Western
alliance against Russia, calling the leaders of France and Canada.
US Secretary of State John Kerry also hosted a joint
conference call with six other foreign ministers from Europe and Canada as well
as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and the Japanese envoy to the US
"to co-ordinate on next steps."
Obama's 90-minute telephone call with Putin represented the
kind of direct confrontation between the men who run the White House and the
Kremlin rarely seen since the end of the Cold War.
The White House account of the call was unusually detailed
and blunt, hinting at tense exchanges as fractures deepened in a relationship
that has been deteriorating since Putin returned as president in 2012.
"President Obama expressed his deep concern over
Russia's clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial
integrity," the White House said.
Obama told Putin his actions were a "breach of
international law, including Russia's obligations under the UN Charter, and of
its 1997 military basing agreement with Ukraine."
Kerry also warned in a later statement that Moscow was
risking the peace and security not just of Ukraine, but also the wider region.
If Russia did not de-escalate tensions, it would have a
"profound" effect on ties with the US, said Kerry, who is due to meet
his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of talks in Rome next
Asked about the tone of the call, a senior US official
resorted to diplomatic parlance indicating an uncomfortable conversation,
describing it as "what you'd expect: candid and direct."
Obama team mulls options
Obama's national security team met at the White House to
mull options on Ukraine, a day after the president warned Putin's actions would
Those costs would entail an immediate halt from the US side
to preparatory talks on the G8 summit in the Olympic resort of Sochi on the
Black Sea in June, Obama told Putin.
The crisis deepened after Putin secured an endorsement by
lawmakers to send troops to Ukraine.
Officials in Kiev had earlier said Russia had already
dispatched 30 armoured personnel carriers and 6 000 additional troops into
Crimea to help pro-Kremlin militia gain broader independence from the new
pro-EU leaders in Kiev.
Obama called on Putin to pull his troops back to Russian
barracks in the Crimean peninsula.
But in a sign his appeal fell on deaf ears, a Russian readout
of the call hinted at an expansion of the operation, as Putin reserved the
right to protect Russian interests in eastern Ukraine.
Obama suggested international observers appointed by the
United Nations Security Council and the Organisation for Security and
Co-operation in Europe should be dispatched to safeguard ethnic Russians in
He also stated strong support for the Kiev government and
pledged to work with bodies like the International Monetary Fund, the OSCE and
Nato to mitigate its deepening economic crisis.
The US president called French President Francois Hollande
and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, leaders of Atlantic nations along
with Britain that formed the backbone of post-war Western resistance to the
Condemning Russia's moves "in the strongest
terms," Harper recalled his ambassador to Moscow and warned he may join
Washington in snubbing June's G8 summit in Russia.
And Washington upped the diplomatic offensive at the United
Nations, with US ambassador Samantha Power branding Russia's parliamentary
approval "as dangerous as it is destabilising."
"The message is pull back your forces. Let us engage in
political dialogue, engage with the Ukrainian government which is reaching out
to you for that dialogue," Power said.
But meaningful action on the crisis at the UN seems
unlikely, given Russia's veto power as a permanent Security Council member.
Before Putin and Obama connected, US Defence Secretary Chuck
Hagel called his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu.
A US defence official said there had been "no
change" to Washington's defence posture in the European region.
Washington appears to have limited options to change Putin's
In addition to snubbing the G8 summit, it could cut off
economic and trade co-operation that Moscow wants to deepen, or impose
sanctions on Russian finance institutions or key officials.
Obama could order a show of military support for US allies
in eastern Europe through Nato, but wants to avoid a Cold War-style chess match
He also needs Russian support for several key foreign policy
priorities including nuclear talks with Iran and destroying Syria's chemical