President Obama implied on Friday that Russia's recent annexation of Crimea may be due to Russian President Vladimir Putin's "deeply-held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union." Obama was speaking to CBS's Scott Pelley in an interview that will air in full Friday evening.
In excerpts aired on CBS' This Morning this morning, the president added that he believes Putin "may be entirely misreading the West." Obama urged Russia to "move back" its troops from the Ukrainian border, and to "begin negotiations directly with the Ukrainian government, as well as the international community." According to Pelley's summary of the interview on Friday, Obama wasn't specific about America's next steps if Putin doesn't pull back, except for that the U.S. and the international community would impose more sanctions.
The network aired Obama's responses to two questions about the situation in Ukraine. First, Pelley asked the president to outline "what are you seeing on the Ukrainian border that worries you?" based on his most recent intelligence briefing. Obama replied that "this is not something that would be just in my briefing," adding that "you've seen a range of — troops massing along that border — under the guise of military exercises. But these are not what Russia would normally be doing." He added that the exercises could either be intended to "intimidate Ukraine," or a sign that the country has "additional plans."
Then, the pair launched into a discussion of Putin himself. Here's an excerpt of the transcript provided by CBS:
SCOTT PELLEY: What is Vladimir Putin after?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, (SIGHING) you know, it-- if you take him at his word, then--
SCOTT PELLEY: Can you?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, on this-- I think he's been-- willing to show-- a deeply-- held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union. You would have thought that-- after-- a coupla decades that there'd be an awareness on the part of any Russian leader that-- the path forward is not-- to revert back to the kinds of-- practices that-- you know, were so prevalent during the Cold War, but in fact-- to move forward-- with-- further integration with the world-- economy and-- and to be a responsible international citizen.
Obama added that Putin has "said that he considers the breakup of the Soviet Union to be tragic," adding:
"I think there's a strong sense of Russian nationalism-- and-- a sense-- that-- somehow the West has-- taken advantage of-- Russia in the past. You know, he's A bit-- and that he wants to in some fashion-- you know-- reverse that or make up for that.
Obama added that he believes Putin may be "misreading" the West, and that "he's certainly misreading American foreign policy." The U.S. has "no interest" in "Ukraine beyond letting the Ukrainian people make their own decisions about their own lives," he added, with the implication that Russia is acting under a different assumption. He said:
And it is true that we reject the notion that there is-- a sphere-- of influence-- along the Russian border that then justifies Russia-- invading other countries. Certainly they're gonna have influence because of trade and tradition and language and heritage-- with Ukraine. Everybody acknowledges that. But there's a difference between that and sending in troops-- and-- because you're bigger and stronger-- taking a piece of the country. That is not how-- international-- law and international norms are observed in the 21st century.
Obama and Pelley, speaking in the Vatican City at about 3 a.m. ET, also discussed the president's visit with the Pope. Obama and Pope Francis had a nearly 50-minute conversation on Thursday, during which the pair discussed immigration and a handful of other issues:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, he-- he-- you know, he is-- he is a wonderful man. Obviously you get a very brief impression. We had a conversation of 45 minutes, although I've-- I've admired him-- from afar since-- since he became pope. I think-- he-- projects the kind of humility-- and kindness that is consistent with-- my understanding at least of-- of Jesus' teachings. He seems to have-- a good sense of humor.
I think that his-- his-- simplicity and his-- belief-- in-- in the power of-- the spiritual over the material-- reflects itself in-- in-- everything that-- he-- he says and does. And-- I suspect-- my sense is, is that he's-- a little bit uncomfortable with all the trappings-- of-- of-- of being pope.
SCOTT PELLEY: Embarrassed by them?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, he-- you know, that-- that-- that-- that's not his style. And that is part of why I think he has been-- so embraced-- around the world. Because people get a sense that first and foremost he sees himself as-- as-- as a priest and as a disciple of Christ and as somebody who is concerned with-- you know, the least of these. And-- you know, nothing's more powerful-- than someone who seems to-- live out their convictions.
The rest of the interview will air on CBS Friday evening, starting at 6:30.