Friday, April 20, 2018

Obama could cancel trip, send message to Russia

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials said Friday that President Barack Obama may scrap plans to attend an international summit in Russia this summer and could also halt discussions on deepening trade ties with Moscow, raising specific possible consequences if Russia should intervene in Ukraine.

"Any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing," Obama declared. Such action by Russia would represent a "profound interference" in matters that must be decided by the Ukrainian people, he said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he would not address specific U.S. options, "but this could be a very dangerous situation if this continues in a provocative way." Asked about options in a CBS News interview, he said that "we're trying to deal with a diplomatic focus, that's the appropriate, responsible approach."

It was unclear whether the administration's threats to pull trade talks or cancel presidential travel might have any impact on Russia's calculations. Obama canceled a bilateral meeting with President Vladimir Putin last year after Russia granted asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, though Obama still attended a separate international meeting in Russia.

Putin is scheduled to host the Group of Eight economic summit in June in Sochi, the site of the recently completed Winter Olympics. The U.S. is in discussions about the summit with European partners, and it is difficult to see how some of those leaders would attend the summit if Russia has forces in Crimea, the Associated Press reported, citing unnamed administration officials.

The administration's warning that trade talks could be halted came as Russian officials were in Washington for economic discussions with Obama advisers.

For the U.S., levying punishments on Russia is complicated by the myriad issues on which the White House needs Moscow's help. Among them: ending the bloodshed in Syria, negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran and transporting U.S. military troops and equipment out of Afghanistan through Russian supply routes.

There was no known contact Friday between Obama and Putin, who last spoke a week ago.

Also Friday, the State Department warned U.S. citizens to put off all nonessential travel to Ukraine, and particularly Crimea.

The department cited "the potential for instability" following the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych as president and the establishment of a new government.

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