President Obama suggested today that the US might impose new economic sanctions on Russia, blaming it squarely for the warfare in eastern Ukraine. But he ruled out any military options and proposed no shift in an American-led strategy that has yet to convince Moscow to halt operations against its far weaker neighbor. Briefing reporters at the White House, Obama said he spoke by telephone with Germany's Angela Merkel, and "we agree, if there was ever any doubt, that Russia is responsible" for the current unrest. "The violence is encouraged by Russia. The separatists are trained by Russia, they are armed by Russia, they are funded by Russia," Obama said. "Russia has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain for the world to see."
He spoke after two columns of Russian tanks and military vehicles entered the country's southeast and fired Grad missiles at a border post, and 1,000 Russian troops poured into the country, according to NATO and Ukrainian officials. Ukraine considers it an invasion. On another major foreign-policy front, Obama played down the prospect of imminent US military action in Syria, saying "we don't have a strategy yet" for degrading the violent militant group seeking to establish a caliphate in the Middle East. He said he has asked the Pentagon to develop a "range of options." And in blunt terms, the president said it was time for Middle Eastern nations to "stop being ambivalent" about the aims of extremist groups like the Islamic State. "They have no ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people." You can read a full transcript here. (Read more President Obama stories.)