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Monday, March 3, 2014

White House Scrambles To Meet Russian Challenge Over Ukraine

President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the situation in Ukraine, March 1, 2014, in the Oval Office. (Pete Souza/The White House)

President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the situation in Ukraine, March 1, 2014, in the Oval Office. (Pete Souza/The White House)

As Russian troops consolidate their hold on border posts and key military installations in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, the White House is rushing to build a coalition to oppose further Russian advances in the region.

Steven Pifer, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and a senior analyst at the Brookings Institution, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the U.S. response to the crisis.

Interview Highlights: Steven Pifer

On the seriousness of the situation in Crimea

“I think the British foreign secretary had it about right. This is a big crisis and you’ve got various pieces in play. The only way that you can now describe Crimea, which is a part of Ukraine, and recognize including by Russia as a part of Ukraine is that it is under Russian military occupation. Fortunately, Ukrainian forces inside Crimea have acted with great restraint I think under orders from Kiev, they have not engaged the Russians. So Ukrainians are trying to do what they can to sort of keep things under control.”

On Russia’s endgame in Crimea

“This is a hard one to figure out. I would think that most Western analysts a week ago would have said Moscow, in particular Vladimir Putin, are very unhappy with what happened in Kiev and the coming to power of a new government after Viktor Yanukovych, the previous president, fled Ukraine. And analysts would have predicted that the Russians would do something to sort of keep that new government a little bit uneasy, to try and destabilize it. But what we all expected would be economic leverage, perhaps raising the price of gas, cutting off the trade to Russia, things like that. And what happened is Mr. Putin jumped over this and went right to this military step. This does defiantly put Ukraine on edge. The end game though, I think at this point remains to be seen and perhaps Moscow has yet decided what it wants to play next.”

On whether Russian is afraid of U.S. sanctions

“I think these levers do have some impact. First of all, one thing that’s very important to Vladimir Putin is international legitimacy — that Russia is a player on the stage. Given the reaction that we’re seeing coming out of Moscow now, it didn’t go down well that yesterday the other seven members of the G8 put out a joint statement saying because of this action against Ukraine, we are holding preparations for the G8 summit plan to be held in Sochi in June. And I think now it looks like Washington is looking at the possibility of financial measures. There are believed to be a lot of Russian money and assets that are in American banks or European banks, in part because there’s not a lot of confidence in the Russian banks. And if there was a way to go after those assets and do assets phases, that could have an impact.”

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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