Ukraine: Obama urges Putin to recall troops

NATO's 28 ambassadors to convene for emergency talks in Brussels on the 'grave situation in Ukraine'

Published: Updated:

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by phone with French President Francois Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and they expressed grave concern about Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, the White House said Saturday.

“The leaders agreed that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected,” the White House said in an official statement about the two separate phone calls, according to Reuters news agency.

Russia has responded to U.S. concerns saying it has the right to “protect its interests and Russian-speaking populations” in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin told Obama Saturday.

The two leaders spoke by telephone after Russia's parliament authorized military action in Ukraine in a dramatic escalation of tensions.

Putin told Obama there was a “real threat weighing on the lives and the health of Russian citizens” in Ukraine, according to a Kremlin statement.

The Russian president accused the new government in Kiev of supporting “criminal actions by ultranationalists,” the Kremlin said.

Meanwhile, Associated Press journalists on Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula have seen a convoy of hundreds of Russian troops heading toward the regional capital, Simferopol.

Russian troops took over the strategic Black Sea peninsula on Saturday without firing a shot and the new government in Kiev has been powerless to react.

The news comes as Russian military servicemen have taken weapons from a radar base and naval training facility in Ukraine’s Crimea region and urged personnel to side with the peninsula’s “legitimate” leaders, Interfax news agency said on Sunday.

Emergency talks

Meanwhile, NATO called for talks on Sunday on the escalating crisis in Ukraine, the head of the alliance said Saturday, according to Agence France-Presse.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who heads the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said on Twitter that he was calling its 28 ambassadors for emergency talks in Brussels on the “grave situation in Ukraine.”

“NATO Allies coordinate closely on grave sit in Ukraine. North Atlantic Council will meet tomorrow followed by NATO-Ukraine Commission,” Rasmussen wrote.

The ambassadors would meet at 1200 GMT with the Ukraine-NATO encounter expected three hours later at 1500 GMT, diplomatic sources said according to AFP.

“Urgent need for de-escalation in Crimea,” Rasmussen wrote. “Russia must respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity & borders, including with regard to movement of Russian forces in Ukraine.”

In a similar development, Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski wrote on Twitter he had asked for a ministerial-level emergency NATO meeting next week on Ukraine.

Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski said earlier his country “could feel threatened by a potential Russian military intervention” in neighboring Ukraine.

Sunday’s NATO meeting comes 24 hours ahead of crisis talks in Brussels between the EU’s 28 foreign ministers.

U.S.-Russia ties

On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Moscow it was risking regional peace and security by deploying troops to Ukraine and warned of deep damage U.S.-Russia ties.

“Unless immediate and concrete steps are taken by Russia to deescalate tensions, the effect on US-Russian relations and on Russia’s international standing will be profound,” Kerry said in a statement.

Moscow’s actions not only violated international accords but were also “a threat to the peace and security of Ukraine, and the wider region,” he added, according to AFP.

Kerry revealed he had held a joint conference call earlier in the day with his global counterparts “to coordinate on next steps.”

“We were unified in our assessment and will work closely together to support Ukraine and its people at this historic hour,” Kerry said, repeating a call for Moscow to withdraw its troops.

It was not immediate clear which foreign ministers had joined the conference call.

(With AFP and Reuters)