Obama: Russian invasion of Ukraine ‘will be a costly proposition’

Following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama urged Congress to provide a package of assistance to the Ukrainian people. (Reuters)

President Obama warned Monday of dire economic consequences for Russia if it pursues a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

"... What is also true is that, over time, this will be a costly proposition for Russia, and now is the time for them to consider whether they can serve their interests in a way that resorts to diplomacy as opposed to force," Obama said.

Without getting into too many specifics, Obama said that the United States and its allies would move to isolate their fellow G-8 member.

"What we are also indicating to the Russians is that if, in fact, they continue on the current trajectory that they're on, that we are examining a whole series of steps — economics, diplomatic — that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia's economy and its [standing] in the world," Obama said, adding: "I think that you can expect that there would be further follow up on that."

Here are Obama's full comments, delivered during a bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

Russia has strong historic ties to the Ukraine. There are a lot of Russian nationals inside of Ukraine as well as native Russians as there are lot of Ukrainians inside of Russia. There are strong commercial ties between those two countries. And so all of those interests I think can be recognized.

But what cannot be done is for Russia with impunity to put its soldiers on the ground and violate basic principles that are recognized around the world. And I think the strong condemnation that it's received from countries around the world indicates the degree to which Russia's on the wrong side of the history on this.

We are strongly supportive of the interim Ukrainian government. John Kerry's going to be traveling to Kiev to indicate our support for the Ukrainian people, to offer very specific and concrete packages of economic aid because one of the things we're concerned about is stabilizing the economy, even in the midst of this crisis.

And what we are also indicating to the Russians is that if, in fact, they continue on the current trajectory that they're on, that we are examining a whole series of steps — economics, diplomatic — that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia's economy and its (standing ?) in the world. We've already suspended preparations for the G-8 summit.

I think that you can expect that there would be further follow up on that. We're taking a look at a whole range of issues that John Kerry mentioned yesterday. And the question for Mr. Putin, who I spoke to directly, and the question for the Russian government generally, is if in fact their concern is that the rights of all Ukrainians are respected; if in fact their primary concern, as they've stated, is that Russian speakers, Russian nationals are not in any way harmed or abused or discriminated against, then we should be able to set up international monitors and an international effort that mediates between various parties, that is able to broker a deal that is satisfactory to the Ukrainian people — not to the United States, not to Russia but to the Ukrainian people — and we should be able to de-escalate the situation.

And so we have been very specific with the Russians about how that might be done under the auspices by the United Nations or the OSCE, or some other international organization. And John Kerry will pursue that further when he arrives.

And so there are really two paths that Russia can take at this point. Obviously the facts on the ground in Crimea are deeply troubling, and Russia has a large army that borders Ukraine. But what is also true is that over time this will be a costly proposition for Russia, and now is the time for them to consider whether they can serve their interests in a way that resorts to diplomacy as opposed to force.

One last point I would make on this. You know, I've heard a lot of talk from Congress about what should be done, what they want to do. One thing ... right away is to work with the administration to help provide a package of assistance to the Ukrainians, to the people and that government. And when they get back in, assuming the weather clears, I would hope that that would be the first order of business, because at this stage, there should be unanimity among Democrats and Republicans that when it comes to preserving the principle that no country has the right to send in troops to another country unprovoked, we should be able to come up with a unified position that stands outside of partisan politics. And my expectation is, is that I'll be able to get Congress to work with us in order to achieve that goal.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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