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Barack Obama Calls Vladimir Putin About Ukraine

And it didn't really work

Pete Souza/White House Flickr

Vladimir Putin threatened war in Ukraine this morning, so President Barack Obama got him on the phone this afternoon. They talked for an hour and a half, and it seems the two men had parallel conversations. 

Take the White House read-out of the call

The United States calls on Russia to de-escalate tensions by withdrawing its forces back to bases in Crimea and to refrain from any interference elsewhere in Ukraine. We have consistently said that we recognize Russia’s deep historic and cultural ties to Ukraine and the need to protect the rights of ethnic Russian and minority populations within Ukraine. The Ukrainian government has made clear its commitment to protect the rights of all Ukrainians and to abide by Ukraine’s international commitments, and we will continue to urge them to do so.

President Obama told President Putin that, if Russia has concerns about the treatment of ethnic Russian and minority populations in Ukraine, the appropriate way to address them is peacefully through direct engagement with the government of Ukraine and through the dispatch of international observers under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Okay, and now for the threats. You ready? 

President Obama made clear that Russia’s continued violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would negatively impact Russia’s standing in the international community.

My god. Russia's standing in the international community, as if there's much left or as if Putin really cares, could suffer. Oh, the humanity.

In the coming hours and days, the United States will urgently consult with allies and partners in the UN Security Council, the North Atlantic Council, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and with the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum. The United States will suspend upcoming participation in preparatory meetings for the G-8.

We're not going to pregame with you, Russia. You hear that?

Going forward, Russia’s continued violation of international law will lead to greater political and economic isolation.

No talk of sanctions—Russia, as you recall, is not a big U.S. trading partner, and is conveniently on the U.N. Security Council—no talk of NATO meeting force with force, which, you know, was what it was created it to do. Just pulling out of one pre-party and vague talk about "Russia's standing" and isolation. So that should've done it, right? Obama exhorts Putin to do the right thing, and then threatens not to prepare for the G8 if he doesn't. He says we'll stop inviting to you all the parties if you hurt Ukraine. Right?

Well, let's take a look at the Kremlin read-out of the call. 

In response to Barack Obama's concern about the possible use of Russia's Armed Forces on Ukraine's territory, Vladimir Putin called attention to the provocative, criminal actions of the ultra-right elements who are in essence being encouraged by the current government in Kiev.

The Russian President accented the very real threats to the lives and health of Russian citizens and numerous compatriots who are currently on Ukraine's territory. Vladimir Putin underscored that, in case of the further spread of violence in the eastern regions of Ukraine and the Crimea, Russia reserves the right to defend its interests and those of the Russian-speaking population living there.

Putin, in other words, is talking about something else. The new government is only quasi-legitimate, and harboring Nazis. There is deadly anti-Russian violence all over Ukraine—though authorities have said there were no such incidents—and Russia's interests are somehow threatened by this and need to be defended. Also, Russian speakers. Them, too.

If you get the sense that the two leaders spoke completely past each other, you're not alone. Asked if this was the case, a senior White House official said, "your characterization isn't far off."