Quotes of the day

President Obama is being pressed to act quickly on the crisis in Ukraine amid accusations that his administration is straddling the fence, as dozens more people were killed Thursday in clashes on the streets of Kiev.

Amid reports that possible sanctions may be on the fast track, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday that “a range of options is being actively considered at the White House.”

But so far, the public face of the administration’s policy toward Ukraine has consisted mostly of phone calls with foreign leaders and public statements…

In a troubling sign, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said Thursday that the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense is refusing to take the phone calls of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who repeatedly has tried to reach out to his counterpart since early last week.


Mr. Lavrov’s remarks came the day after the United States announced that it would impose a travel ban on 20 civilian and political leaders in Ukraine who officials said were directly responsible for ordering a crackdown in Kiev that began on Tuesday after protesters broke through police lines.

The State Department did not identify those sanctioned, but Obama administration officials indicated that they had not targeted Ukraine’s military command or apparently Mr. Yanukovych himself, leaving room for a compromise. Administration officials also have been vague about the possibility of additional sanctions.

Josh Earnest, the White House principal deputy press secretary, said Thursday that there were “a range of tools that could be used by the administration to hold accountable officials.” Mr. Earnest also said “it is fair to say that a range of options is being actively considered.”


The Obama administration is putting together a package of sanctions the president could put in place as soon as tonight, more likely tomorrow, ABC News has learned.

These sanctions would directly target individuals in the Ukrainian government believed to be responsible for the violence unfolding in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. The sanctions would include freezing assets and measures designed to cut these individuals off from the international banking system. The measures would be similar to those imposed over the past several years on individuals in the Iranian government.

Unlike the visa/travel restrictions imposed Wednesday on 20 unnamed members of the Ukrainian government, the administration will name names, White House officials said.


A spokesman for President Obama couldn’t identify a U.S. national security interest in Ukraine, emphasizing an American desire to support human rights rather than a “old Cold War” rivalry with Russia.

“This is something that we’re monitoring,” White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said when asked if the Kiev protests impact U.S. national security. “This idea of ‘spheres of influence’ is a pretty outdated notion,” he added when pressed about Russia’s interest in Ukraine.

“Our principal concern here does not lie in whether or not [Russian President] Vladimir Putin stands to gain or lose from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine,” he reiterated later in the press briefing…

Earnest rejected any Cold War-era categories. “It is not necessarily related to any effort by former Cold War adversaries to try to get a foothold in one country or another,” he said. Instead, Earnest explained U.S. interest by saying that “at least some of the human rights, basic human rights that we hold so dear in this country are not being respected.”


Arizona Sen. John McCain repeated calls for targeted sanctions on Ukraine and slammed the administration for its handling of the U.S.’s relationship with Russia.

“This is the most naive president in history,” McCain said Thursday on Phoenix radio station KFYI of President Barack Obama, citing both his “flexibility” comments to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as well as the “reset button” on Russian relations…

“This thing could easily spiral out of control into a major international crisis. The first thing we need to do is impose sanctions on those people who are in leadership positions,” McCain said…

“Watch Putin after the Olympics are over. He may try — and I emphasize may — try to have some partition of … Ukraine,” McCain said. “He is committed to keeping Ukraine as part of Russia.”


I have yet to interview Putin on the matter, but years of observing the man and the system he’s built all point to one thing: he is watching Ukraine very closely and shaking his head. Instead of swiftly clearing the protests before they had a chance to gather momentum and not allowing them into the political system, Yanukovich dithered, thereby weakening himself…

Last time Kiev had protests, Putin put the finishing touch on killing democracy in Russia. This time, he is already busy tightening the screws. He is cracking down on DozhdTV, Russia’s last independent television station. He has ordered a propagandist makeover of RIA Novosti, a state-owned but fairly modern news agency, installing a fire-breathing ideologue to run it (this guy, if you’re curious). Today, Ekho Moskvy, Moscow’s largest radio station that is often sympathetic to the opposition, got a new general manager, a woman with a decade-long resume of faithfully serving the state propaganda machine. State TV is broadcasting Goebbels-like “documentaries” about the opposition called “The Biochemistry of Betrayal.” People who don’t agree with Putin have found their sources of income choked off; many are fleeing the country.

Putin is tightening the screws, because this is what stability looks like and that, to Putin, by all accounts a man deeply traumatized by the chaotic, painful collapse of the Soviet Union, is worth any price. And the more unstable Ukraine gets, the tighter he’ll turn them. Just you wait.


Once the country is at the Kremlin’s mercy, Mr Putin can extort a heavy price. He is known to disparage the very notion of Ukraine’s statehood, in public and in private. He could demand that it join a Russian-led security alliance. Russia’s military integration with Belarus is already proving a headache for Nato, which is struggling to work out how it can defend Europe’s north-eastern flank with its slender remaining resources…

The danger now is that, in despair, the West seeks to broker a solution to the Ukrainian problem through a deal with Russia. That will infuriate and disillusion the protesters, stoking extremism and violence. It is hard to imagine a more dangerous message to send to the Kremlin: create chaos in your former empire and the West will then let you dictate the terms of settlement…

It is to our lasting shame that we have been accomplices in this. We should unleash our money-laundering and anti-bribery laws. We should freeze assets and impose visa bans on those involved in looting and repression on our doorstep.


Russia is ruled by a little, strutting Mussolini — the Duce, like Putin, enjoyed being photographed with his chest bare and his biceps flexed. Putin is unreconciled to the “tragedy,” as he calls it, of the Soviet Union’s demise. It was within the Soviet apparatus of oppression that he honed the skills by which he governs — censorship, corruption, brutality, oppression, assassination…

Putin’s contempt for Barack Obama is palpable. Russia’s robust support of Bashar al-Assad is one reason Assad has, according to the Obama administration’s director of intelligence, “strengthened” his position in the period since Obama said Assad should “step aside.” Russia has been less than helpful regarding U.S. attempts to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Where, exactly, has Obama’s much-advertised but never defined “reset” of relations with Russia been fruitful?…

The Soviet Union — “one of modern history’s pivotal experiments,” in the weasel words of NBC’s Olympics coverage — existed for seven miserable decades. Ukraine’s agony is a reverberation of the protracted process of cleaning up after the “experiment.” So, this is perhaps the final episode of the Cold War. Does America’s unusually loquacious 44th president remember how the words of the 40th — “Tear down this wall!” — helped to win it?