President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged Ukraine to avoid violence against peaceful protesters or face consequences, as the United States considered joining European partners to impose sanctions aimed at ending deadly street clashes that are sparking fears of civil war.
“There will be consequences if people step over the line,” Obama said shortly after landing in Mexico for a summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, as fires burned in central Kiev. “And that includes making sure that the Ukrainian military does not step in to what should be a set of issues that can be resolved by civilians.”
The European Union called an extraordinary meeting of its 28 member countries on Thursday to address the situation.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Paris that he and his counterparts from Germany and Poland would travel to Ukraine, meeting with the Ukrainian government and opposition before the emergency EU meeting. EU sanctions would typically include banning leading officials from traveling to the EU countries and freezing their assets there.
Obama said he is monitoring the Ukrainian violence “very carefully.”
“We expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint and to not resort to violence when dealing with peaceful protesters,” Obama said.
“We hold the Ukrainian government primarily responsible for making sure that it is dealing with peaceful protesters in an appropriate way, that the Ukrainian people are able to assemble and speak freely about their interests without fear of repression,” Obama said, adding he also expects protesters to remain peaceful.
Secretary of State John Kerry, in Paris for meetings with Fabius and others, said he was disturbed by the level of abuse demonstrated by the Ukrainian government and protesters.
“We are talking about the possibility of sanctions or other steps in order to create the atmosphere for compromise,” he said.
Kerry said the situation is bad but there’s room for dialogue and that it’s up to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to decide the future of his country.
“Our desire is for President Yanukovych to bring people together, dialogue with the opposition and find (a way) to compromise and put the broad interests of the people of Ukraine out front,” he said. “We are convinced there is still space for that to happen. The violence can be avoided and, in the end, the aspirations of the people of Ukraine can be met through that kind of dialogue. That is our hope,” he added.
Deadly clashes between police and anti-government protesters in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on Tuesday left at least 25 people dead and hundreds injured.
Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters traveling with Obama aboard Air Force one that what happened Tuesday was “completely outrageous” and will be a factor in U.S. decision-making.
He said there was still time for the Ukrainian government to avoid sanctions or other punishment by pulling back its “riot police,” respecting people’s right to protest peacefully, releasing protesters who have been arrested and pursuing a “serious dialogue” with the opposition about how to unify the country.