Obama and Putin Reveal Opposition in Takeaways From Call

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Hearing the leaders of the United States and Russia tell the story of a March 29 phone call, it sounds like they were talking to different people. The White House reported President Obama asked Vladimir Putin to pull back troops amassing on the border of Crimea, while the Kremlin detailed the requests of Russia for cooperation from the global community to stop the “rampage of extremists” in the Ukraine. In any event, both agreed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would meet soon to discuss the crisis in the region.

President Putin placed the call to Obama on March 28 while the U.S. President was traveling through Saudi Arabia. The White House release indicated Putin was willing to talk about the U.S. proposal for a diplomatic resolution. In order to have the idea Putin offered be considered by the U.S. and its allies, Obama “suggested that Russia put a concrete response in writing,” the statement said.

While noting the “restrained and de-escalatory” approach Ukrainian officials have taken to the crisis, Obama said that a pullback of Russian forces would be huge step toward resolving the problems in the region. A NATO general offered reports of Russia building up “large” forces on the Ukrainian border on March 23. Since then, Russian troops have overseen the departure of Ukrainian forces from Crimea.

The Kremlin’s release ignored the movement of Russian troops entirely, instead detailing the movements of extremists both in around Kiev as well as the “blockade” of Transnistria. Putin’s team stressed help from the global community was welcome to “stabilize the situation.”

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In fact, the Kremlin’s release following the Putin call to Barack Obama declared a “conflict” only in Transnistria, where pro-Russian influences have expressed interest in joining the country’s political structure. President Obama reminded Putin that troop movements in the region were considered “provocations” by the international community.

U.S. Senators John McCain (R, Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R, So. Car.) were much more blunt in their assessment. Saying there was no reason to trust Putin given his “track record of lies and aggression,” McCain’s office called on NATO to offer the “military assistance” Ukrainian government has requested.

Sending military help to the region would likely be considered a provocation by Russian officials. The diplomatic back-and-forth in the coming weeks will reveal the direction these negotiations take. Sec. Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov will “meet to discuss next steps” in the near future, the White House statement said.

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