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News Analysis: Obama in sticky situation as U.S.-Russia deal sputters

English.news.cn   2014-04-22 05:19:22
 • Obama is in a tough spot after a U.S.-Russia deal to de-escalate the Ukrainian crisis stalled.
 • The agreement reached called on pro-Russian demonstrators to vacate occupied buildings and streets.
 • If the deal does not stick, Obama and European allies will be forced to turn threats into action.

 

By Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, April 21 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama is in a tough spot after a U.S.-Russia deal to de-escalate the Ukrainian crisis stalled amid weeks of critics' charges that the president is too timid in dealing with Russia.

The agreement reached last week called on pro-Russian demonstrators to vacate occupied buildings, squares and streets in Ukraine. But it has so far been ignored, calling into question the Obama administration's competence in finding a solution.

"This puts the Obama administration in a very difficult position because it makes the president look weak when agreements aren't respected," Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, told Xinhua.

That perception could hurt the president if it takes hold in the United States, West said. "The public could view that Obama is being taken to the cleaners by the Russians," he added.

Indeed, if the deal does not stick, Obama and European allies will be forced to turn threats of sanctions into action, some analysts said.

"If the agreements aren't implemented, it will force the U.S. and Europe to ratchet up the sanctions and get tougher on Russia," West said.

While the Obama administration has talked tough, threatening Russia with sanctions after what the White House called an illegal deployment of Russian troops in the Crimea, the president has failed to follow words with concrete action, critics said.

Sanctions thus far have amounted to refusing to grant visas to a handful of Russians, critics say, adding that what they bill Obama's non-confrontational stance is weakening the U.S. position on the world stage.

Bill O'Reilly, host of the political commentary program The O' Reilly Factor on the Fox News Channel, one of the country's most widely viewed news shows, said Obama has projected weakness on the world stage for how he is handling the situation.

U.S. Democrats want no part of confrontation and some Republicans are isolationists as well. This stance has resulted in a "weakening of presidential power," O'Reilly said.

The comments came after veteran Republican senator John McCain' s remark last month that Obama's "feckless" foreign policy had invited the crisis in Ukraine, echoing other Republican critics who called Obama weak and indecisive.

Still, West said Obama is following a graduated approach toward Russia, adding that current sanctions were meant to convey displeasure, but can be broadened as Russia engages in actions not supported by the international community.

Obama hopes that European nations will support the sanctions, and if Russia invades eastern Ukraine, it is likely that the Europeans will support tougher sanctions against Russia, experts said.

In an interview with CBS News last week, Obama said it was " absolutely clear" that Russia had violated Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity by "annexing Crimea" last month and was continuing to do so by supporting "non-state militias" in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow, however, has rejected accusations that Russia was destabilizing Ukraine. In a telephone conversation with Obama on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the United States to use its influence to prevent bloodshed in Ukraine.

Washington and Moscow began to butt heads after Russia deployed troops to Crimea a few weeks back, with the U.S. blasting the move as contrary to international law and imposing sanctions, while Russia defended the move as an effort to protect ethnic Russians in the region.

David Clark, chairman of the Russia Foundation, told Xinhua that Russian policy makers see the United States as strong, but not as strong as it once was, adding that Washington is no longer focused on Europe as its main strategic priority following Obama's rebalance to Asia.

He added that Moscow is testing the United States and European responses to gauge their willingness to support Ukraine and challenge Russian behavior before deciding what to do next.

So far the Obama administration has ruled out military intervention in the Ukrainian crisis and repeatedly called for a diplomatic solution, as it faces hefty military budgetary cuts and war weary public after more than a decade of military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Related:

Kerry urges Russia to help implement Ukraine deal

WASHINGTON, April 21 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday urged Russia to "take concrete steps" to help implement the agreement aimed at defusing tensions in Ukraine.

In his telephone talk with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Kerry urged Russia to publicly call on "separatists to vacate illegal buildings and checkpoints, accept amnesty, and address their grievances politically," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a press briefing.  Full story

Russian FM says impossible to isolate Moscow

MOSCOW, April 21 (Xinhua) -- Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday any attempt to isolate Russia was bound to fail and he urged European Union countries to make responsible and independent decisions on sanctions.

"Isolation has never led anyone to anything," Lavrov told reporters after talks with Mozambican counterpart Oldemiro Baloi. Full story

Editor: Yang Lina
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