UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) – US President Barack Obama on Wednesday slammed Russia’s “aggression” in Ukraine but offered to lift sanctions against Moscow if it threw its weight behind an unraveling peace deal with Kiev.
The outstretched hand to Moscow came a day after pro-Russian guerrillas brushed off Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s limited self-rule offer and announced plans to set up their own parliaments in self-organised November 2 polls.
The autonomy plan was at the heart of the pro-Western leader’s attempts to quell a revolt that has devastated the ex-Soviet nation’s economy and revived a Cold War-era mistrust between Moscow and the West.
A tough-talking Obama told a special UN General Assembly session in New York that Russia was on the wrong side of history in Ukraine. But he also stressed that a ceasefire deal agreed earlier this month offered an opening toward diplomacy and peace.
“Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition,” Obama told the General Assembly with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in attendance.
“We will impose a cost on Russia for aggression.”
But if Moscow “changes course”, he said, “we will lift our sanctions and welcome Russia’s role in addressing common challenges”.
Obama’s remarks appeared to leave both Lavrov and Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk unimpressed.
“The sanctions are the United States’ own business,” Interfax quoted Lavrov as telling Russian reporters.
“But the things happening in Ukraine are not their business at all.”
Hours later, Yatsenyuk urged the West to maintain sanctions on Russia in his address to the General Assembly.