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Statements 2014

Remarks by President Obama on Ukraine at Press Conference in Mexico

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
February 19, 2014

PRESS CONFERENCE BY PRESIDENT OBAMA,
PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO OF MEXICO,
AND PRIME MINISTER HARPER OF CANADA

Patio Central
Palacio de Gobierno
Toluca, Mexico


7:25 P.M. CST

PRESIDENT OBAMA: And, finally, given our shared commitment to democratic values and human rights, I want to take this opportunity to address the situation in Venezuela and Ukraine, and the unacceptable violence in those two countries, which the United States strongly condemns.

… With regard to Ukraine, along with our European partners, we will continue to engage all sides. And we continue to stress to President Yanukovych and the Ukrainian government that they have the primary responsibility to prevent the kind of terrible violence that we’ve seen, to withdraw riot police, to work with the opposition to restore security and human dignity and move the country forward. And this includes progress towards a multiparty technical government that can work with the international community on a support package and adopt reforms necessary for free and fair elections next year.

Ukrainians are a proud and resilient people who’ve overcome extraordinary challenges in their history, and that’s a pride and strength that I hope they draw on now. Meanwhile, I've urged the military in Ukraine to show restraint and to let civilians pursue the dialogue necessary for progress. We’ve obviously seen reports of a truce between the government and the opposition. If the truce is implemented, it could provide space for the sides to resolve their disagreements peacefully.

And going forward, we’ll continue to do whatever we can to support Ukrainians as they seek a peaceful resolution and respond to the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for a strong, unified democracy that’s fully integrated into the international community.

QUESTION: The common denominator in the strife in Ukraine and Syria is the support that those two governments get from Russia, and I’m wondering, sir, if you believe that President Putin bears some responsibility for the intransigence of those two regimes. And to some degree, has this gone beyond just those two countries, and has it become a tug of war between two world powers?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Now, with respect to Syria and the Ukraine, I do think it is worth noting that you have in this situation one country that has clearly been a client state of Russia, another whose government is currently -- been supported by Russia; where the people obviously have a very different view and vision for their country. And we’ve now seen a great deal of turmoil there that arose organically from within those countries.

I don’t think there’s a competition between the United States and Russia. I think this is an expression of the hopes and aspirations of people inside of Syria and people inside of the Ukraine who recognize that basic freedoms -- freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, fair and free elections, the ability to run a business without paying a bribe, to not be discriminated against because of your religion or your beliefs -- that those are fundamental rights that everybody wants to enjoy.

Now, Mr. Putin has a different view on many of those issues, and I don’t think that there’s any secret on that. And our approach as the United States is not to see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia. Our goal is to make sure that the people of Ukraine are able to make decisions for themselves about their future, that the people of Syria are able to make decisions without having bombs going off and killing women and children, or chemical weapons, or towns being starved because a despot wants to cling to power.

Those express our values and our national interests, and we will continue to express those national interests. There are times, I hope, where Russia will recognize that over the long term they should be on board with those values and interests as well. Right now, there are times where we have strong disagreements. And when I speak to Mr. Putin, I’m very candid about those disagreements, even as we will continue to pursue cooperation with Russia on areas where we had shared concerns.

But I want to emphasize this: The situation that happened in Ukraine has to do with whether or not the people of Ukraine can determine their own destiny. And my government and Vice President Biden, and I personally, have expressed to President Yanukovych the need for him to recognize the spirit of the Ukrainian people and work with that, as opposed to trying to repress it. And so we’ll continue to stand on the side of the people.

My hope is, at this point, that a truce may hold, but Stephen is exactly right -- ultimately, the government is responsible for making sure that we shift towards some sort of unity government, even if it’s temporary, that allows us to move to fair and free elections so that the will of the Ukrainian people can be rightly expressed without the kinds of chaos we’ve seen on the streets and without the bloodshed that all of us I think strongly condemn.