Obama says Putin isn’t ‘fooling anybody’ with his intentions in Ukraine

U.S. pledges $1 billion loan to Ukraine amid showdown with Russia

President Obama said Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t “fooling anybody” by claiming an invasion of Ukraine was needed to protect ethnic Russians, and said the “meddling” will drive other countries away from Russia’s sphere of influence.

Mr. Obama said there is a “strong belief” in the international community that Russia’s move in the Crimean peninsula is a violation of international law.

SEE ALSO: Obama shoved to sidelines as Russia ignores U.S. threats of isolation

“I know President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations,” Mr. Obama said. “But I don’t think that’s fooling anybody.”

While Russia has legitimate interests in what happens in a neighboring state, Mr. Obama said, “that does not give it the right to use force in exerting influence inside that state.”

The president, who has been criticized for a weak response in the affair, refuted suggestions in the media that Mr. Putin’s actions “have been clever strategically.”

Secretary of State John Kerry stands beside a barricade at the Shrine of the Fallen in Kiev, Ukraine March 4, 2014. The Shrine of the Fallen, located on Institutska Street, honors the fallen Heroes of the "Heavenly Sotnya" (Hundred). Over the course of the EuroMaidan protests, almost 100 protesters were killed by police. (AP Photo/Kevin Lamarque, Pool)

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Secretary of State John Kerry stands beside a barricade at the Shrine ... more >

“I actually think that this has not been a sign of strength but rather is a reflection that countries near Russia have deep concerns and suspicions about this kind of meddling,” Mr. Obama said. “If anything, it will push countries further away from Russia. There is the ability of Ukraine to be a friend of the West and a friend of Russia, as long as none of us are inside of Ukraine trying to meddle and intervene, certainly not militarily, with decisions that properly belong to the Ukrainian people.”

The president’s remarks came at an elementary school in Washington where he introduced his new federal budget. His administration announced Tuesday it is working with Congress on $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine.Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the loans “will be aimed at protecting the most vulnerable Ukrainian households” from the impact of needed economic reforms. He said the reforms will help to restore financial stability and economic growth in that nation.

The announcement came as Secretary of State John F. Kerry landed in the Ukrainian capital Tuesday to show American support for Kiev's military and political struggle against Moscow.

SEE ALSO: Shots fired in Crimea as Kerry lands in Ukraine

The International Monetary Fund is working with the government in Kiev and Western nations to develop an assistance package aimed at recovering stolen assets, combatting corruption, restoring free and fair elections and “withstanding politically motivated trade actions by Russia,” Mr. Lew said.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said Tuesday the Obama administration is guilty of “a fundamental misreading of Vladimir Putin and his intentions.” Russian troops entered the Crimea region of Ukraine last week after the pro-Russian president of Ukraine fled office in the face of massive and violent street protests against the government.

“The president said in his debate with Mitt Romney [in 2012] that the Cold War was over 20 years ago,” Mr. McCain said. “Maybe in the president’s eyes, but certainly not in Vladimir Putin’s eyes.”

In his first public remarks since Russian forces took control of the Crimean peninsula, Mr. Putin still reserved the right to use force to protect ethnic Russians. There’s “no such necessity” to do so at present, he said.

Mr. Putin said the uprising in Ukraine was an “anti-constitutional coup and armed seizure of power,” and insisted that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is the legitimate leader of the nation.

Speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Mr. McCain said the U.S. needs to have “a fundamental understanding of Putin and what he’s all about,” and he ridiculed Mr. Obama’s infamous plans for a “reset” of U.S.-Russia relations.

“There’s no ‘reset’ with Vladimir Putin,” he said. “There’s no doubt that he will not give up in Crimea. Vladimir Putin does not want a democracy on his borders.”

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