Obama Shrugs Off Threat of Russia Invading Ukraine: 'We're Not There Yet'

Susan Jones | August 7, 2014 | 6:03am EDT
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President Barack Obama listens to a question during a news conference at the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(CNSNews.com) - The massing of Russian troops along the Ukraine border may signal an imminent invasion, but "we're not there yet," President Obama said on Wednesday. And until we're there, "the best thing we can do for Ukraine is to try to get back on a political track," he told reporters at a pre-vacation news conference.

A reporter asked Obama if the signs of an imminent Russian invasion would make him "reconsider" lethal military aid for Ukraine.

"Well, keep in mind that the Russian army is a lot bigger than the Ukrainian army," Obama responded.

"So the issue here is not whether the Ukrainian army has some additional weaponry. At least up until this point, they've been fighting a group of separatists who have engaged in some terrible violence, but who can't match the Ukrainian army.

"Now, if you start seeing an invasion by Russia, that's obviously a different set of questions. We're not there yet.

"What we have been doing is providing a whole host of assistance packages to the Ukrainian government and to their military, and we will continue to work with them to evaluate on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis what exactly they need in order to be able to defend their country and to deal with the separatist elements that currently are being armed by Russia.

"But the best thing we can do for Ukraine is to try to get back on a political track."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday warned that Russia’s troop buildup on Ukraine’s eastern border makes a ground invasion more likely:

“When you see the buildup of Russian troops and the sophistication of those troops, the training of those troops, the heavy military equipment that's being put along that border, of course it's a reality, it's a threat, it's a possibility — absolutely," Hagel told the Associated Press.

In response to Russia's aggression, the Obama administration has imposed various sanctions on Russia. But on Wednesday, Obama said, "we don't know yet whether sanctions are working," even though they have put "enormous pressure and strain on the Russian economy."

"And it has presented the choice to President Putin as to whether he is going to try to resolve the issues in Eastern Ukraine through diplomacy and peaceful means, recognizing that Ukraine is a sovereign country, and that it is up ultimately to the Ukrainian people to make decisions about their own lives. Or alternatively continue on the course he's on, in which case he's going to be hurting his economy, and hurting his own people over the long-term.

"And in that sense, we are doing exactly what we should be doing, and we're very pleased that our European allies and partners joined us in this (sanctions) process as well as a number of countries around the world.

"Having said all that, the issue is not e resolved yet. You still have fighting in Eastern Ukraine. Civilians are still dying. We have already seen some of the consequences of this conflict in the loss of the Malaysian Airlines airline, or jetliner; and the sooner that we can get back on a track in which there are serious discussions taking place to assure that all Ukrainians are heard, that they can work through the political process, that they are represented, that the reforms that have already been offered by the government in Kiev are implemented to protect Russian speakers to assure decentralization of power, the sooner that we move on those and the sooner that President Putin recognizes that Ukraine is an independent country, it's only at that point where we can say save that the problems have truly been solved."

Conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer, appearing on Fox News, said Obama showed "zero interest" in the crisis and is letting events dictate what happens in Ukraine.

"This is really unbelievable," Krauthammer said on Wednesday. "The United States is the one country that can deter Russia, and "we're just saying we're going to watch."  It sends the wrong signal to Putin --"that you don't have to worry about this guy."

Krauthammer noted that Obama is going on vacation: "He's grabbing the golf clubs, and he'll be gone for a month, and we'll see you when you come back -- if Russia hasn't taken over Ukraine, we'll deal with it when that happens."

The Obamas leave for a two-week stay in Martha's Vineyard on Saturday.

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