Q: <…> On Ukraine, pro-Russian rebels are again launching new offenses. How at this point can you justify not taking a different approach, given that the Minsk Agreement has all but failed, and sanctions may have had an impact on the Russian economy but they don’t appear to be changing Russia’s calculus when it comes to Ukraine? <…>
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, with respect to Ukraine, what I’ve said consistently is that we have no interest in seeing Russia weakened or its economy in shambles. We have a profound interest, as I believe every country does, in promoting a core principle, which is, large countries don’t bully smaller countries. They don’t encroach on their territorial integrity. They don’t encroach on their sovereignty. And that’s what’s at stake in Ukraine. And what we have done is to consistently isolate Russia on this issue and to raise the costs that Russia confronts.
Now, when you say that we should take a different approach, Julie, I don’t know exactly what you’re referring to. I’ve been very clear that it would not be effective for us to engage in a military conflict with Russia on this issue, but what we can do is to continue to support Ukraine’s ability to control its own territory. And that involves a combination of the economic pressure that’s been brought to bear in sanctions, the diplomatic isolation that has been brought to bear against Russia, and, as important as anything, making sure that we’re continuing to provide the support that Ukraine needs to sustain its economy during this transition period, and to help its military with basic supplies and equipment, as well as the continuing training and exercises that have been taking place between NATO and Ukraine for quite some time.
We are deeply concerned about the latest break in the cease-fire and the aggression that these separatists — with Russian backing, Russian equipment, Russian financing, Russian training and Russian troops — are conducting. And we will continue to take the approach that we’ve taken in the past, which is to ratchet up the pressure on Russia.
And I will look at all additional options that are available to us short of a military confrontation in trying to address this issue. And we’ll be in close consultation with our international partners, and particularly European partners, to assure that they stay in lockstep with us on this issue. What we’ve been very successful at is maintaining unity across the Atlantic on this issue, and that’s going to be a continuing priority of mine.
But ultimately, what I’ve said before remains true. If Mr. Putin and if Russia are hell-bent on engaging in military conflicts, their military is more powerful than Ukraine’s, and the question is going to be whether they continue to pursue a path where that not only is bad for the people of Ukraine but is bad for the people of Russia, and are we able to continue to raise the costs even as we’re creating an off-ramp diplomatically that eventually the Kremlin starts pursuing a more sensible policy in resolving this issue.