WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama today called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to de-escalate the tense atmosphere in Ukraine by pulling his forces back to bases in the country's Crimean region and to refrain from interfering elsewhere in the former Soviet satellite.
Obama personally delivered the message to Putin during a 90-minute telephone conversation, the White House said late today.
But Obama's request appeared likely to go unheeded as the Kremlin said Putin, in turn, emphasized to Obama the existence of real threats to the life and health of Russian citizens living in Ukraine and that Russia has the right to protect its interests there.
Russian troops took over Crimea after the Russian parliament today granted Putin authority to send them in.
Ukraine's newly installed government was powerless to react to the swarm of Russian troops.
"President Obama expressed his deep concern over Russia's clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity," the White House said in a statement that called the action "a breach of international law."
Hours earlier, Obama's national security team huddled at the White House to get updates on the situation and discuss policy options. Obama did not participate. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry participated by videoconference.
"The United States condemns Russia's military intervention into Ukrainian territory," the White House said.
Obama also discussed the situation with French President Francois Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke by telephone with his Russian counterpart and stressed that "without a change on the ground," Russia risks further instability in the region, isolation in the international community and an escalation that would threaten European and international security," the Pentagon said.
But a defiant-sounding statement issued by the Kremlin in Moscow said Putin stressed to Obama that the situation in Ukraine poses "real threats" to the life and health of Russian citizens and compatriots who live in Ukrainian territory.