President Obama made clear to Vladimir Putin in a one-hour phone call this afternoon that the US thinks Russia's moves in Ukraine are violating that nation's sovereignty, the White House said today. The US president told Putin that there was still a way to resolve the dispute diplomatically—with Russian forces moving back to their base in Crimea, the governments of Ukraine and Russia holding direct talks, and international monitors arriving. No breakthoughs emerged during the call, however, and all signs pointed to a prolonged diplomatic battle.
Before the phone call, Obama ordered the West's first sanctions in response to Russia's military takeover of Crimea. Obama issued an executive action slapping new visa restrictions on Russian and other opponents of Ukraine's government in Kiev and authorizing wider financial penalties against those involved in the military intervention or in stealing state assets. None of the measures appeared aimed at the Russian president personally. "Today the world can see that the United States is united with our allies and partners in upholding international law," Obama said. "That's what we're going to continue to do in the days to come until we have seen a resolution to this crisis." European leaders announced their own measures but split over how forcefully to follow America's lead. (Crimean lawmakers voted 78-0 to schedule a referendum on March 16 on whether the region should secede from Ukraine and join Russia, though Obama maintains the vote would violate international law.)