WASHINGTON – President Obama said Friday that he is “deeply concerned” by reports of Russian military activity within Ukraine and warned “there will be costs” for any intervention, urging Moscow to use restraint as the former Soviet state struggles to forge a new government.
“Any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interests of Ukraine, Russia or Europe,” Obama said in an unscheduled statement from the White House briefing room. “It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be determined by the Ukrainian people.”
Obama’s remarks followed a day in which the tensions mounted between the Russian-speaking majority in the Ukrainian province of Crimea and the new, Western-aligned government in the capital, Kiev. Armed men seized government buildings and airports, raising the Russian flag. Airspace over the peninsula was closed, while local news outlets reported Russian transport vehicles were seen moving from the port city of Sevastopol toward the regional capital, Simferopol.
In Moscow, ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich declared he is still the legitimate leader and called on Russia to bring order to the chaos. Yanukovich lashed out at Western diplomats who brokered an agreement to quell violence in Kiev last week, after days of deadly riots between opposition forces and security forces.
Eying the possibility of a Russian military intervention, the White House has repeatedly called on Moscow to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty. The president’s remarks Friday were his first public comments on the rising tensions since last week’s agreement.
“We have been very clear about one fundamental principle: The Ukrainian people deserve the opportunity to determine their own future,” Obama said.
Obama said his administration had been in daily communication with Russian officials and noted that Vice President Joe Biden had spoken with the Ukrainian prime minister on Friday.
He also noted the world was watching. “Just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic Games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world,” he said. “And indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”