At Russian President Vladimir Putin’s request President Obama has accepted an invitation to meet with him during the up-coming United Nations General Assembly activities in New York. According to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest Russia’s destabilizing behavior inside Ukraine will be topic number one for President Obama.
In response to my first question, Mr. Earnest mentioned that the president would be discussing the international sanctions regime imposed by the US, Great Britain and the European Allies in a call with UK Prime Minister David Cameron – which took place after the Press Briefing.
In a follow up question I asked if Mr. Earnest if he believed Mr. Putin was seeking to establish a real military stronghold in Syria and possibly in other countries in the Middle East as Cold War Soviet Leader Khrushchev tried to establish in President Nasser’s Egypt.
Mr. Earnest used the term “client state” to describe this kind of Russian military relationship in Assad’s Syria.
Mr. Earnest suggested that Putin will have to chose wisely and take care not to exhaust his resources since the Russian economy is weak due the the effectiveness of the international sanctions.
MR. EARNEST: JC.
JCB Q To follow up on Scott, you just mentioned two individuals vis-à-vis the Ukraine issue, Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande. Is David Cameron in the mix? And might the President have a conversation — does he look forward to a conversation with the leaders who are involved in the sanctions for Mr. Putin’s activities in Ukraine before he meets with Mr. Putin kind of as a rallying call or conversation?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I certainly wouldn’t rule out any consultations with Prime Minister Cameron. In fact, if you stick around today, we may have a little news in that regard. And I think this sort of reflects the kind of international consensus there is about Russia’s destabilizing behavior inside of Ukraine and concerns about Russia’s intent when it comes to the use of their military inside of Syria.
Again, Russia is operating from a position of weakness in confronting challenges in both those countries. But they have taken steps that we believe in both situations are counterproductive when it comes to both their own interests but also the broader international community’s interests.
We believe there’s a collective interest in respecting the basic territorial integrity of sovereign nations. We believe it’s in Russia’s interest to observe those international norms. Instead, they’ve flouted them for more than a year now. And that has been a source of some concern not just on the part of the United States, but on the part of the United States and our European allies. And we’ve taken the kinds of steps that have isolated Russia and taken a toll on the economy.
JCB Q You mentioned earlier, if I may, that Mr. Putin has a reason for staying in involved with Syria. It seems to be his — I don’t know — I don’t want to put words in your mouth — is it’s kind of a surrogate nation.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, well, we’ve described them as a “client state”. And it’s been that way for some time now.
JCB Q But the former Soviet Union, under Mr. Khrushchev, also had influence and a desire to find a “client state” with Mr. Nasser during that era in Egypt. Do you think that Mr. Putin may have his eyes on some other countries, as well, in the Middle East to get that stronghold?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that — well, let me confront this in a couple of ways. The first is, when you’re the — when you’ve been reduced to the fifteenth-largest economy in the world, it means that you’re going to have to be very judicious about how you choose to invest your resources. And it means that President Putin will have to choose wisely as he considers how to account for some of the weakness in Russia’s interest in some of these other locations. So I certainly wouldn’t rule out that he may choose other venues to try to exercise some influence. But his ability to do that is going to be constrained by Russia’s international isolation and their declining economy.