Putin Calls Obama, May Be Open to Talks on Ukraine

Putin Calls Obama, May Be Open to Talks on Ukraine
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Russian President Vladimir Putin, signaling what could be a new appetite to resolve Moscow’s crisis with neighboring Ukraine, telephoned President Obama Friday, the White House said in a written statement.

The two leaders agreed that Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who discussed earlier this week a U.S. proposal for a diplomatic process involving Ukraine, are to meet to “discuss next steps,” the White House announced.

[Update: Kerry arrived in Paris on Saturday to meet with Lavrov on Sunday evening at the Russian ambassador’s house, according to the State Department and news reports. Kerry was en route home from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday when he changed course and flew to France after the meeting was arranged. In the past week, Kerry also has been trying to salvage Middle East peace talks, and was preparing to participate in a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting Tuesday. Appearing on Russian television Saturday, Lavrov said Russia has “absolutely no intention of – or interest in – crossing Ukraine’s borders.”] 

The Kremlin, in a written statement, made no explicit mention of the U.S. proposal, but referred to Putin’s aims to protect the Ukrainian people from “extremists” and ways “the global community” can help “stabilize” the crisis.

Putin “drew Barack Obama’s attention to [a] continued rampage of extremists who are committing acts of intimidation towards peaceful residents, government authorities and law enforcement agencies in various regions and in Kiev with impunity,” the statement by the Russian Federation said in English. “In light of this, the President of Russia suggested examining possible steps the global community can take to help stabilise the situation. The two presidents agreed that specific parameters for this joint work will be discussed by the Russian and U.S. foreign ministers in the near future.”

Obama “suggested” to Putin that Russia put in writing “a concrete response” to the U.S. proposal, which Kerry and Lavrov discussed March 24 at The Hague.

That proposal, which called for international monitors in Ukraine, and Russia’s participation in talks with the Ukrainian government prior to May elections, has been publicly described by Obama, and endorsed in concept by heads of state from Europe, Japan and Canada. Chinese President Xi Jinping, during a bilateral meeting with Obama while attending this week’s nuclear summit, also expressed Beijing’s support for a “de-escalation” of the situation in Ukraine.

A senior administration official, elaborating on Friday’s developments, made clear that the U.S. proposal takes “into account the Ukrainian government's openness to constitutional reform and upcoming Ukrainian elections. Throughout this process, we have been coordinating closely with the Ukrainians.” 

Coming at the end of a week in which Obama and NATO powers vowed to support Ukraine, and harshly denigrated Russia as an isolated, weakened and unlawful invader of Crimea, Putin’s telephone call suggested a sudden openness to finding what Obama repeatedly calls an “off ramp.”

Putin contacted Obama in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before Obama’s visit there was set to conclude on Saturday.

According to the White House statement, Obama reiterated to Putin that Russia should “avoid further provocations” and not “further breach” Ukraine’s sovereign borders, and the president urged Putin to “pull back” Russian troops currently massed to the Ukraine’s east.

Obama told Putin again during the third telephone call the leaders have shared since the crisis began that “the United States has strongly opposed the actions that Russia has already taken to violate Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the White House said.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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