WASHINGTON, March 28 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday urged Russia to pull back troops from the border with Ukraine and start direct talks with its neighbor.
Speaking on CBS's "This Morning" program, Obama pointed to "a range of troops massing along that border under the guise of military exercises," as U.S. intelligence agencies have reportedly cited "mounting evidence" about Moscow's possible invasion of eastern Ukraine.
Russia earlier this week dismissed reports that it was allegedly mobilizing troops to its border with Ukraine after its annexation of Crimea.
Russia's next move is a top concern of the West after it annexed Crimea this month, though Moscow said it had no intention to split Ukraine. But Russia also spoke of its responsibility to protect Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine from attacks.
On Russian troops along the border, Obama said "It may simply be an effort to intimidate Ukraine, or it may be that they've got additional plans."
"And in either case, what we need right now to resolve, and de- escalate, the situation would be for Russia to move back those troops, and to begin negotiations directly with Ukrainian government as well as the international community," he added.
The Ukrainian crisis dominated Obama's agenda during his trip to Europe this week, in which he had threatened tougher economic sanctions in response to Russia's next move in Ukraine, including targeting its energy and other key sectors.
The president reiterated that the United States has "no interest in encircling Russia" and no interest in Ukraine "beyond letting Ukrainian people make their own decisions about their own lives."
On March 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law the treaty formally making Crimea part of Russia, five days after the region voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining Russia in a referendum.
On Thursday, the 193-member UN General Assembly adopted a resolution affirming its commitment to Ukraine's territorial integrity with 100 votes in favor, 11 against and 58 abstentions, and termed Russia's annexation of Crimea as having "no validity".