RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- President Obama said Russia should move its troops back from its border with Ukraine and ease tensions by opening direct negotiations with that country’s new government.
The Russian troops massing near the border are doing so “under the guise of military exercises,” Obama said in a television interview that aired Friday.
But those exercises “are not what Russia would normally be doing,” Obama told "CBS Evening News" anchor Scott Pelley. “And, you know, it may simply be an effort to intimidate Ukraine or it may be that they've got additional plans.”
If Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to ease the situation, Obama said, Kremlin officials need “to move back those troops and to begin negotiations directly with the Ukrainian government as well as the international community.”
The remarks aired as Obama made his way to Saudi Arabia on a mission to smooth relations with the longtime U.S. ally, recently dismayed by Washington's policy in Syria, Iran and Egypt.
Aides to the president said Friday they think the U.S. relationship with the Saudis is already on the mend because of improvements in coordinating assistance to the Syrian opposition in that country's civil war.
But even as Obama turned his focus to the Middle East after spending a week in Europe, his domestic message was still on the Ukrainian crisis.
In the CBS interview, Obama said Putin has displayed “a deeply held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union,” according to a transcript.
Although Obama has argued in recent days that the world is not slipping back into a new Cold war, he suggested to Pelley that he thinks Putin’s mindset may be stuck in that very era.
"You would have thought that after a couple of decades that there'd be an awareness on the part of any Russian leader that the path forward is not to revert back to the kinds of practices that, you know, were so prevalent during the Cold War, but, in fact, to move forward with further integration with the world economy and to be a responsible international citizen,” Obama said.