March 7, 2014
Obama warns Ukraine against military violence
US President Barack Obama has called on Ukraine's armed forces to stay out of the country's political crisis and warned that there would be consequences for those who "step over the line."
Using his toughest language so far in response to a Ukrainian conflict that has drawn threats of US and European Union sanctions, Obama denounced the violence and put the onus on Ukraine's government to reach a peaceful resolution.
"We hold the Ukrainian government primarily responsible for making sure that it is dealing with peaceful protesters in an appropriate way, that the Ukrainian people are able to assemble and speak freely about their interests without fear of repression," Obama told reporters at the start of a North American summit in Mexico.
Obama and other Western leaders stepped up pressure on Ukraine's Russian-backed president, Viktor Yanukovich, after 26 people were killed in the country's worst violence since independence from the Soviet Union.
Shortly after Obama spoke, Yanukovich said he had agreed to a "truce" with opposition leaders and a start to negotiations to prevent further bloodshed. The crisis, complete with Cold War-style recriminations between Washington and Moscow, has centered on Independence Square in Kiev where riot police battled protesters.
Speaking to reporters ahead of a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Obama urged both sides in Ukraine to avoid violence but singled out the country's military for a specific warning against intervening in the crisis.
"We expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint," he said. "We've also said we expect peaceful protesters to remain peaceful, and we'll be monitoring very closely the situation, recognizing that with our European partners and the international community there will be consequences if people step over the line.
"And that includes making sure the Ukrainian military does not step into what should be a set of issues that can be resolved by civilians," he said.
Obama's rhetoric carried echoes of the "red line" he declared early on in Syria's three-year-old civil war against President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons, a warning he failed to enforce with military action last year.