WASHINGTON: Engaging in a military conflict with Russia amid growing tensions between Moscow and Washington would be unwise, US president Barack Obama has said adding that the US policy of imposing tough sanctions on Russia after the latter's actions in Ukraine has badly hit the Russian economy.
"I don't think that it would be wise for the US or the world to see an actual military conflict between the United States and Russia," Obama told Fareed Zakaria of the GPS, a CNN Sunday talk show, in an interview aired yesterday.
"I think that's entirely fair. And I think that is a testament to the bad decisions that Mr Putin is making on behalf of his country," Obama said when asked if it is fair to say that his Russia policy has been pretty effective in imposing real costs on the Russian economy, but it has not deterred the Russian President Vladimir Putin from creating instability in Ukraine.
Obama said when he came into office, he talked about the resetting of the US-Russia relationship.
"And I established I think an effective working relationship with (the then Russian President, Dmitry) Medvedev. And as a consequence, Russia's economy was growing. They had the opportunity to begin diversifying their economy. Their relations across Europe and around the world were sound. They joined the WTO, with assistance from us," he said.
"Since Mr Putin made this decision around Crimea and Ukraine, not because of some grand strategy, but essentially because he was caught off balance by the protests in the Maidan, and Yanukovych then fleeing after we'd brokered a deal to transition power in Ukraine," he noted.
"Since that time this improvisation that he has gotten him deeper and deeper into a situation that is a violation of international law, that violates the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, has isolated Russia diplomatically, has made Europe wary of doing business with Russia," Obama alleged.
"Has allowed the imposition of sanctions that are crippling Russia's economy at a time when their oil revenues are dropping. There's no formula in which this ends up being good for Russia. The annexation of Crimea is a cost, not a benefit to Russia," he said.
Observing that the days, in which conquest of land somehow was a formula for great nation status is over, Obama said the power of countries today is measured by your knowledge, skills, ability to export goods to invent new products and new services, and influence.
"None of those things are provided by his strategy. Now, but what is absolutely true is that if you have a leader who continually drives past the off ramps that we've provided, given the size of the Russian military, given the fact that Ukraine is not a NATO country, and so as a consequence there are clear limits in terms of what we would do militarily, Mr Putin has not been stopped so far," he said.
"To those who would suggest that we need to do more, what I've said to them is that we can exact higher and higher costs and that's exactly what we're doing, and we can bring diplomatic pressure to bear," Obama said.
"What we are doing is reinforcing those border states who are members of NATO and making very clear that that line is one that cannot be crossed because we wouldn't have to take military action to protect our allies. That's part of what article five is all about," said the US President.
Obama alleged that so far he has not seen a recognition on the part of the Kremlin that it is in Russia's interest to resolve this issue over the long-term.
"So, in addition to continue to exact costs on Russia, one of the most important things we can do is to continue to support the Ukrainian economy and the reform efforts that are coming out of Kiev. To their credit, President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk have initiated significant reforms there that are making a difference if they are given a chance," he said.
"So we are going to keep on these dual tracks, putting more pressure on Russia, bolstering Ukraine, delivering a message to Mr Putin that these off ramps and diplomatic resolutions remain available. I'm not wildly optimistic at this point that his orientation changes, partly because the one thing that's been very successful for Mr Putin is his politics," he said.
"I think he's been able to create in part because of state sponsored media and Russia TV and all the mechanisms he has to quell dissent inside his country and tapping into, you know, sort of the strong nationalism that exists inside of Russia. What he has been able to do is to keep his poll numbers up," Obama said.
In fact, a lot of his turn away from re-engagement with the West was when he decided to start running for re-election and his popularity wasn't as high as he was accustomed to, he observed.
"Perhaps over time he changes his mind. In the meantime, we just have to make sure that we're firm in protecting our allies and supporting the principles that have maintained peace in Europe for the entire post-war period," he said.