WASHINGTON -- President Obama on Monday publicly mocked Russian President Vladimir Putin’s justification for sending troops into Ukraine, contending that Putin’s claim that Russia is protecting Russians isn’t “fooling anybody.”
Russia may have legitimate interests in what happens in a neighboring state, Obama said, but “that does not give it the right to use force as a means of exerting influence inside of that state.”
“We have said that if in fact there is any evidence out there that Russian speakers or Russian natives or Russian nationals are in any way being threatened, there are ways of dealing with that through international mechanisms,” Obama said.
The fact that television viewers are seeing images of Russian soldiers out of their barracks in Crimea is a sign that Russia is actually “seeking, through force, to exert influence on a neighboring country,” Obama said.
The remarks came as Obama was touring an elementary school in Washington, D.C., an event timed to coincide with the public release of his budget proposal to Congress. A small group of teachers and students at Powell Elementary School gathered in a classroom to hear the president speak about the education priorities in the spending blueprint.
But when a reporter asked about the events unfolding in Crimea, Obama paused at the lectern to criticize Putin’s actions. Simultaneously, Secretary of State John F. Kerry was delivering a similar message before television cameras in Kiev.
The world has seen no evidence that Russians are being threatened in Crimea, Obama said.
“I know President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations,” Obama said, “but I don’t think that’s fooling anybody.”