- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2014

Russia should move its troops away from its border with Ukraine and begin direct talks with Kiev government, President Obama said Friday.

“You’ve seen a range of troops massing along that border under the guise of military exercises, but these are not what Russia would normally be doing,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with Scott Pelley of CBS. “It may simply be an effort to intimidate Ukraine, or it may be that they’ve got additional plans.”

The president added, “In either case, what we need right now to resolve and de-escalate the situation would be for Russia to move back those troops and to begin negotiations directly with the Ukrainian government as well as the international community.”

Russia has an estimated 40,000 troops near its border with Ukraine. But a Ukrainian official told CNN his government estimates 88,000 Russian troops are at the Ukrainian border.

Mr. Obama, who is meeting with Saudi Arabian leaders Friday after four days of talks with European officials, said he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is still trying to reclaim glory lost from the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

“You would have thought that, after a couple of decades, there’d be an awareness on the part of any Russian leader that the path forward is not to revert back to the kinds of practices that were so prevalent during the Cold War,” Mr. Obama said.

The president also said he thinks Mr. Putin “may be entirely misreading the West.”

“He’s certainly misreading American foreign policy,” Mr. Obama said. “We have no interest in encircling Russia, and we have no interest in Ukraine — beyond letting the Ukrainian people make their own decisions about their own lives.”

The president has been working with European allies to impose economic sanctions against top Russian officials, but has ruled out military action to reverse Russia’s takeover of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.

Mr. Obama’s comments came as Russia dismissed a U.N. General Assembly resolution that rejected Crimea’s secession referendum as invalid.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the U.N. action was only complicating matters.

“The counterproductive initiative with the General Assembly’s resolution only complicates efforts to stabilize the internal political crisis in Ukraine,” the ministry said in a statement.

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