White House and Kremlin seem to have different recollections of Obama-Putin call


Obama and Putin at a June G8 summit meeting in Northern Ireland. (Alexei Nikolsky/Ria Novosti/KREM via EPA)

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama spoke on the phone. Given recent tensions over Ukraine and Crimea, dialogue seems like a good thing. However, were the two presidents really talking to each other? After reading the two official statements about the call, it sounds like they got some wires crossed or something.

Here's how the White House said the call went:

President Putin called President Obama today to discuss the U.S. proposal for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine, which Secretary Kerry had again presented to Foreign Minister Lavrov at the meeting at the Hague earlier this week, and which we developed following U.S. consultations with our Ukrainian and European partners.  President Obama suggested that Russia put a concrete response in writing and the presidents agreed that Kerry and Lavrov would meet to discuss next steps.

President Obama noted that the Ukrainian government continues to take a restrained and de-escalatory approach to the crisis and is moving ahead with constitutional reform and democratic elections, and urged Russia to support this process and avoid further provocations, including the buildup of forces on its border with Ukraine.

President Obama underscored to President Putin that the United States continues to support a diplomatic  path in close consultation with the Government of Ukraine and in support of the Ukrainian people with the aim of de-escalation of the crisis.  President Obama made clear that this remains possible only if Russia pulls back its troops and does not take any steps to further violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.  President Obama reiterated that the United States has strongly opposed the actions that Russia has already taken to violate Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Okay, now here's how the Kremlin says the call went:

Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with President of the United States of America Barack Obama.

The two leaders continued exchanging views on the crisis in Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin drew Barack Obama’s attention to continued rampage of extremists who are committing acts of intimidation towards peaceful residents, government authorities and law enforcement agencies in various regions and in Kiev with impunity.

In light of this, the President of Russia suggested examining possible steps the global community can take to help stabilise the situation. The two presidents agreed that specific parameters for this joint work will be discussed by the Russian and US foreign ministers in the near future.

Vladimir Putin also pointed out that Transnistria is essentially experiencing a blockade, which significantly complicate the living conditions for the region’s residents, impeding their movement and normal trade and economic activities. He stressed that Russia stands for the fair and comprehensive settlement of the Transnistria conflict and hopes for effective work in the existing 5+2 negotiation format.

So, there seem to be some differences there.

  • "President Obama noted that the Ukrainian government continues to take a restrained and de-escalatory approach to the crisis ..." vs. "Vladimir Putin drew Barack Obama’s attention to continued rampage of extremists ..."
  • President Obama urged Russia to pull "back its troops and ... not take any steps to further violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty." The Kremlin somehow misses this.
  • Vladimir Putin began talking about Transnistria, the Russian-majority region of Moldova that considers itself a sovereign state, but the White House did not mention this. Given that Transnistria has been touted as a potential conflict point by the European head of NATO, that's noteworthy.

In fact, it seems that there's only one thing the pair might agree on: They exchanged views on the phone.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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Adam Taylor · March 28