Excerpts on Ukraine in Remarks by the President Announcing the FY2015 Budget
March 4, 2014
Q Do you have response to President Putin’s press conference this morning? Is Chancellor Merkel right that he’s lost touch with reality? And have you spoken with him again personally?
THE PRESIDENT: I haven’t spoken to him since I spoke to him this past weekend. But obviously, me and my national security team have been watching events unfolding in Ukraine very closely. I met with him again today. As many of you know, John Kerry is in Kyiv as we speak, at my direction. He’s expressing our full support for the Ukrainian people.
Over the past several weeks, we’ve been working with our partners and with the IMF to build international support for a package that helps to stabilize Ukraine’s economy. And today we announced a significant package of our own to support Ukraine’s economy, and also to provide them with the technical assistance that they need. So it includes a planned loan guarantee package of $1 billion. It provides immediate technical expertise to Ukraine to repair its economy. And, importantly, it provides for assistance to help Ukraine plan for elections that are going to be coming up very soon.
As I said yesterday, it is important that Congress stand with us. I don’t doubt the bipartisan concern that’s been expressed by the situation in Ukraine. There is something immediately Congress can do to help us, and that is to help finance the economic package that can stabilize the economy in Ukraine, help to make sure that fair and free elections take place very soon, and as a consequence, helps to deescalate the crisis.
In the meantime, we’re consulting with our international allies across the board. Together, the international community has condemned Russia’s violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. We’ve condemned their intervention in Crimea. And we are calling for a de-escalation of the situation, and international monitors that can go into the country right away.
And, above all, we believe that the Ukrainian people should be able to decide their own future, which is why the world should be focused on helping them stabilize the situation economically and move towards the fair and free elections that are currently scheduled to take place in May.
There have been some reports that President Putin is pausing for a moment and reflecting on what’s happened. I think that we’ve all seen that -- from the perspective of the European Union, the United States, allies like Canada and Japan, and allies and friends and partners around the world -- there is a strong belief that Russia’s action is violating international law. I know President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations, but I don’t think that’s fooling anybody.
I think everybody recognizes that although Russia has legitimate interests in what happens in a neighboring state, 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. And we’re prepared to make sure that the rights of all Ukrainians are upheld. And, in fact, in conversations that we’ve had with the government in Kyiv, they have been more than willing to work with the international community and with Russia to provide such assurances.
So the fact that we are still seeing soldiers out of their barracks in Crimea is an indication to which what’s happening there is not based on actual concern for Russian nationals or Russian speakers inside of Ukraine, but is based on Russia seeking, through force, to exert influence on a neighboring country. That is not how international law is supposed to operate.
I would also note just the way that some of this has been reported, that there’s a suggestion somehow that the Russian actions have been clever strategically. I actually think that this has not been a sign of strength but rather is a reflection that countries near Russia have deep concerns and suspicions about this kind of meddling, and if anything, it will push many countries further away from Russia.
There is the ability for Ukraine to be a friend of the West’s and a friend of Russia’s as long as none of us are inside of Ukraine trying to meddle and intervene, certainly not militarily, with decisions that properly belong to the Ukrainian people. And that’s the principle that John Kerry is going to be speaking to during his visit. I’ll be making additional calls today to some of our key foreign partners, and I suspect I’ll be doing that all week and in through the weekend.
But as I indicated yesterday, the course of history is for people to want to be free to make their own decisions about their own futures. And the international community I think is unified in believing that it is not the role of an outside force -- where there’s been no evidence of serious violence, where there’s been no rationale under international law -- to intervene in people trying to determine their own destiny.
So we stand on the side of history that I think more and more people around the world deeply believe in -- the principle that a sovereign people, an independent people are able to make their own decisions about their own lives. And Mr. Putin can throw a lot of words out there, but the facts on the ground indicate that right now he’s not abiding by that principle. There is still the opportunity for Russia to do so, working with the international community to help stabilize the situation.
And we’ve sent a clear message that we are prepared to work with anybody if their genuine interest is making sure that Ukraine is able to govern itself. And as I indicated before, and something that I think has not been emphasized enough, they are currently scheduled to have elections in May. And everybody in the international community should be invested in making sure that the economic deterioration that’s happened in Ukraine stops, but also that these elections proceed in a fair and free way in which all Ukrainians, including Russian speakers inside of Ukraine, are able to express their choice of who should lead them.
And if we have a strong, robust, legitimate election, then there shouldn’t be any question as to whether the Ukrainian people govern themselves without the kinds of outside interference that we see Russia exerting.