Obama says Putin move into Ukraine not a sign of Russian strength

by Reuters
Tuesday, 4 March 2014 17:30 GMT

(Adds Obama comments)

WASHINGTON, March 4 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin's intervention in Ukraine is not a sign of Russian strength but rather a reflection of the deep concern Russia's neighbors have about Moscow's meddling.

In remarks to reporters, Obama ridiculed Putin's justification for any Russian military action in the Crimea region of southern Ukraine.

Putin has denied that Russian armed forces were directly engaged in the bloodless seizure of Crimea but said he has the right to send in military forces to protect Russian nationals. Obama has called Moscow's moves a violation of international law.

"President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations," Obama said. "But I don't think that's fooling anybody."

Obama said he held a meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday morning, his second such session in two days about Ukraine.

Obama, who has drawn fire from Republicans for his handling of Ukraine, rejected suggestions that the Russian move was a clear strategic step.

"I actually think that this has not been a sign of strength but rather a reflection that countries near Russia have deep concerns and suspicions about this kind of meddling and if anything will push some countries further away from Russia," he said.

Obama said a U.S. aid package is aimed in part at making sure Ukraine has elections and that legitimate elections should show the country is able to govern itself.

He urged Congress to back the aid package.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Beech)

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