President Barack Obama’s four-day swing through Europe includes no meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, not surprisingly, given the U.S. and its European allies’ reaction to Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine.
But Obama acknowledged Thursday that he will likely see Putin in France the next day in the commemoration of 70th anniversary of D-Day.
During a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron following the Group of Seven meeting in Brussels, a reporter asked Obama about the likelihood of at least talking to Putin face to face.
“I have no doubt that I’ll see Mr. Putin, and he and I have always had a businesslike relationship and it is entirely appropriate that he is there to commemorate D-Day given the extraordinary sacrifices that were made of the people of the Soviet Union during World War II,” Obama said. “Should we have the opportunity to talk, I will be repeating the same message that I’ve been delivering to him throughout this crisis.”
Obama pointed out that he has talked to Putin on the phone several times throughout the Ukraine crisis. Russia annexed Crimea earlier this year, but in a recent national election, Ukrainians elected the pro-Western Petro Poroshenko as its new president.
“My message has been very consistent and that is that Russia has a legitimate interest in what happens in Ukraine given that it’s on its border and given its historical ties,” Obama said. “But ultimately it’s up to the people of Ukraine to make their own decisions, that Russian armed forces annexing pieces of a neighbor is illegal and violates international law, and the kinds of destabilizing activities that we now see funded and encouraged by Russia are illegal and not constructive and there is a path in which Russia has the capacity to engage directly with President Poroshenko now. He should take it.”
“If he does not, if he continues a strategy of undermining the sovereignty of Ukraine, then we have no choice, but to respond and perhaps he’s been surprised by the degree of unity that’s been displayed,” Obama continued. “I do think the fact that he did not immediately denounce the outcome of the May 25 election perhaps offers the prospect that he’s moving in a new direction, but I think we have to see what he does and not what he says.”