Moments ago the White House made a fine point of announcing that - for the first time since the Ukraine crisis erupted and led to the unanswered annexation of Crimea by Russia - Putin called the White House first to discuss what was vaguely enough described as "a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine." However a more detailed read through of what actually happened reveals that there is less here than meets the eye (as a rational person would suspect since any truly good news would have been divulged during market trading hours).
As the Kremlin's own interpretation of the call between the two leaders discloses, "Vladimir Putin drew Barack Obama’s attention to continued rampage of extremists who are committing acts of intimidation towards peaceful residents, government authorities and law enforcement agencies in various regions and in Kiev with impunity."
Here, Putin undoubtedly is focusing on last night's storming of the parliament by the "Right Sector" neonazis, which initially had been insturmental in the violent Ukraine coup and have now become a huge nuisance to the acting government. Which, as we noted yesterday, meant they suddenly had become Putin's best friend. Because in bringing attention to their actions, the Kremlin makes it quite clear that the Russian case of neofascists running rampant in Kiev, was in fact at least partially accurate.
Kremlin goes on:
In light of this, the President of Russia suggested examining possible steps the global community can take to help stabilise the situation. The two presidents agreed that specific parameters for this joint work will be discussed by the Russian and US foreign ministers in the near future.
Vladimir Putin also pointed out that Transnistria is essentially experiencing a blockade, which significantly complicate the living conditions for the region’s residents, impeding their movement and normal trade and economic activities. He stressed that Russia stands for the fair and comprehensive settlement of the Transnistria conflict and hopes for effective work in the existing 5+2 negotiation format.
Simply said, Putin called Obama to make it quite clear that the Russian is nowhere close to de-escalating, and in fact is bringing even more attention to the old party line - that Russia is concerned about the living conditions of Russians and other "compatriots" in Ukraine. The implicit threat here is that should the neonazis continue to act with "rampant impunity" then Russia will have no choice but to intervene.
How about the flip side? Here is the White House's version of events from The Hill:
President Obama called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his troops from Ukraine’s border on Friday during a phone call between the two leaders. Obama noted that the Ukrainian government has pursued “a restrained and de-escalatory approach” in the crisis, the White House said.
He urged Russia to support Ukraine’s democratic process and to "avoid further provocations, including the buildup of forces on its border with Ukraine.” The phone call, which was initiated by Putin, comes a day after Agence France-Presse reported nearly 100,000 Russian troops had lined up along their border with Ukraine, according to a Ukrainian official.
“President Putin called President Obama today to discuss the U.S. proposal for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine, which Secretary Kerry had again presented to Foreign Minister Lavrov at the meeting at the Hague earlier this week, and which we developed following U.S. consultations with our Ukrainian and European partners,” the White House said in a statement.
Obama made it clear to Putin, the White House said, that de-escalation in the crisis can only happen if Russian pulls its troops back and doesn’t take steps “to further violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
During the phone call, Obama also reiterated the United States “strongly opposes” Russia’s actions, which he said violated Ukraine’s sovereignty. Obama also expressed this message to Russia in an interview that first aired on “CBS This Morning” on Friday.
Russia’s troop buildup, Obama said in the interview, “may simply be an effort to intimidate Ukraine or it may be that they've got additional plans.”
To summarize, Putin calls Obama to inform him, and thus the international community, just under what conditions Russia will continue to push on inside Ukraine - namely a real or false flag provocation by "extremists" against Russians, while Obama drones on, pun inteded, about de-escalating and threatening with "costs." Sounds about right.