Obama Has Tough Talk for Russia, But Not Much Else


President Barack Obama came down hard on Russia but did not detail any further action against the country during a statement Thursday afternoon. His remarks focused almost completely on the conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.

On Ukraine, Obama said he discussed Russia's "incursions" into Ukraine with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

"We agree, if there was ever any doubt, that Russia is responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine," he said. "The violence is encouraged by Russia. The separatists are trained by Russia. They are armed by Russia. They are funded by Russia."

But Obama didn't detail additional steps, saying he was going to Europe in a week and would "coordinate with our closest allies and partners" there. He said that the sanctions already in place are working, and that Russia is backing itself into a corner financially and internationally with its military adventures.

When asked if he would call those adventures and "invasion," Obama instead framed them as a "continuation" of what's been going on for months. He also ruled out the U.S. military getting involved: "We are not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem ... a military solution to this problem is not going to be forthcoming."

On the Islamic State, Obama said that the current airstrikes have been effective, saying "the terrorists of ISIL are losing arms and equipment." He said the Department of Defense was preparing a "range of options" to consider in dealing with IS, but that defeating the group would require cooperation from "countries in the region, countries that don't always agree on many things."

Obama told reporters that "we don't have a strategy yet" regarding IS operations in Syria, where fighting between the group and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad means attacking the former could help the latter

"Assad's lost legitimacy in terms of dropping barrel bombs on innocent families and killing tens of thousands of people," he said, adding that areas IS occupies are out of Assad's reach, and airstrikes wouldn't help him. "I don't think this is a situation where we have to choose between Assad or the kinds of people who carry on the incredible violence that we've been seeing there."

He stressed support for moderate opposition in Syria, saying that the U.S. needs to "give people inside of Syria a choice other than ISIL or Assad." 

Whatever the military strategy ends up being — and we may need to know sooner rather than later — Obama stressed that it has to be paired with help from allies and not-so-much allies in the Middle East. 

"We can rout ISIS on the ground and keep a lid on things temporarily, but then as soon as we leave, the same problems come back again," he said. "Rooting out a cancer like ISIL will not be quick or easy, but I'm confident that we can and we will, working closely with our allies and our partners."