Obama Urges Diplomatic Solution in Ukraine

President Barack Obama urged a diplomatic solution to rising tensions in Ukraine during an hour-long phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, according to a White House release. During the conversation he urged Russian and Ukrainian leaders to hold direct talks in which “international monitors could ensure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected, including ethnic Russians,” states the release. He also urged Russian forces to return to their bases. The conversation comes the same day Obama signed an executive order authorizing sanctions or penalties on anyone who violates the “sovereignty or territorial integrity of Ukraine,” according to a separate White House statement. “We’ve taken steps to reaffirm our commitment to the security and democracy of our allies in Eastern Europe and to support the people of Ukraine,” said Obama. Also on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reaffirmed the alliance’s commitment to Ukraine, promising to “step up its partnership cooperation through the NATO-Ukraine Commission to support democratic reforms,” according to a NATO release. It added, “This will include bolstering ties with Ukraine’s political and military leadership, strengthening efforts to build the capacity of the Ukrainian military, and more joint training and exercises.”