The outstretched hand to Moscow on Wednesday came a day after pro-Russian guerillas brushed off Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s limited self-rule offer and announced plans to set up their own parliaments in self-organised November 2 polls.
The autonomy offer was at the heart of the pro-Western leader’s attempts to quell a revolt that has devastated the ex-Soviet nation’s economy and revived a Cold War-era mistrust between Moscow and the West.
A tough-talking Obama told a special UN General Assembly session in New York that Russia was on the wrong side of history in Ukraine.
But he also stressed that a ceasefire deal agreed earlier this month offered an opening toward diplomacy and peace.
“Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition,” Obama told the General Assembly with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in attendance.
“We will impose a cost on Russia for aggression.”
But if Moscow “changes course”, he added, “then we will lift our sanctions and welcome Russia’s role in addressing common challenges”.