- By J. Dana StusterJ. Dana Stuster is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy. He has studied at the American University of Beirut and graduated in 2010 with degrees in English and International Relations from the University of California, Davis. Before coming to FP, his work appeared in the Atlantic and the National Interest, among other publications.
With Ukraine’s parliament dismantling the last vestiges of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s government, the Obama administration warned Russia against sending troops into the country and told Moscow that it should allow Ukrainians to freely determine their own future.
Appearing on Meet the Press Sunday, National Security Advisor Susan Rice was adamant about limiting Russia’s role in Ukraine going forward. If Moscow were to try to intervene militarily to restore Yanukovych’s pro-Russian government, "that would be a grave mistake," Rice told host David Gregory.
"It’s not in the interests of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or of the United States to see the country split," she said. "It’s in nobody’s interest to see violence return and the situation escalate."
Rice’s statement was markedly more forceful than British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who commented to the BBC that "any external duress on Ukraine any more than we’ve seen in recent weeks … it really would not be in the interests of Russia to do any such thing."
Hague said that it would be "very important for us to continue to try to persuade Russia that this need not be a zero sum game."
The comments came as the Ukrainian parliament, which appears to be in full control of the country, ousted several of Yanukovych’s last remaining ministers and appointed their speaker Oleksandr Turchynov as the country’s new president.
Yanukoych, meanwhile, has fled to a Russian-speaking part of the country, denounced the protesters who pushed him out of power as anarchists and terrorists, and insisted that he remains the rightful ruler of the country.
Rice rejected Yanukovych’s claim to power.
He has gone," she said. "Yanukovych has lost enormous legitimacy, despite having been originally democratically elected, by turning on his people."
When Gregory pressed her on whether Yanukovych would accept stepping down, Rice seemed to flatly indicate that the White House believed his era was finished.
"He left Kiev…. This was not fleeing in a very disorderly fashion," she said. "But the fact is, he’s not leading at the present."
Despite her tough talk about a possible Russian military intervention into Ukraine, Rice said Russia and America fundamentally shared the same hopes for Ukraine’s future.
President Obama, Rice said, has conveyed to Russian President Vladimir Putin that "we have a shared interest in a Ukraine that remains unified, whole, independent and is able to exercise the will of its people freely. At that point, Putin was in agreement."
She did not discuss the issues of disagreement, but insisted that both Obama and Putin "wanted to see the implementation of the agreement that had been signed on Friday…. We are going to have a unity government. We are going to have near-term elections. We are going to have constitutional reform. And that reflects the will of the Ukrainian people and the interests of the United States and Europe." She didn’t say how the deal reflected Russian interests
Rice also expressed concern about seeing the crisis through a Cold War lens, saying that if Putin saw it that way it would be a "pretty dated perspective."
"It’s not necessary, nor is it in our interests to return to a Cold War construct that is long out of date and that doesn’t reflect the realities of the 21st century," she said.