Phoning Russian president said to be 'most painful way to spend 90 minutes' for Obama - ahead of dentistry without anaesthetic
© Pat Dollard.com
New details have begun to emerge of the extraordinary 90-minute phone call
between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin on Saturday night, during which the US president warned his Russian counterpart that Moscow could face "serious repercussions" unless it halted military operations in Ukraine.
The call, made at Obama's initiation and carried out from the telephone at his desk in the Oval Office, was described by one US government official as "candid and direct".
The president, who was wearing a weekend uniform of a grey shirt, dark blue jeans and brown suede shoes, "told Mr Putin that it was imperative to find a different path, to roll back this invasion and undo this act of invasion," secretary of state John Kerry said on Sunday
A former diplomatic official said a Russia expert at the State Department's office of language services would probably have been patched into the call remotely, to translate each of Putin's statements to Obama after they were made. Simultaneous translation is often avoided during high-stakes calls due to the need for precision with language - explaining the extraordinary length of the conversation, thought to be by far the longest between the two men.
"That is a long, long call," said William Galston, a former White House adviser to Bill Clinton. "However, you can effectively cut it in half because of the need to translate back and forth."
Read-outs from the call distributed by the White House and the Kremlin demonstrated how far apart the two leaders remained on key issues.
Obama told Putin that his actions were a "clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law", according to the US. The Kremlin statement said Putin told Obama, bluntly, that the US-backed interim Ukraine administration was threatening "the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots" in Crimea
Obama urged Putin to instead pursue "direct engagement with the government of Ukraine" and support the "dispatch of international observers under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)", the White House said.
The Russian leader's response was blunt, according to Moscow. "In the case of any further spread of violence to eastern Ukraine and Crimea,"
Putin's office said he had warned, "Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas."
"It is not that they are giving two incompatible versions of events," said Galston. "The problem is that theirs is no meeting of minds".
One thing is for sure - the call was one of the most excruciating ways imaginable for Obama to spend a Saturday afternoon, according to one of his former national-security aides.
If forced to rank the "most painful way to spend 90 minutes", Tommy Vietor said on Twitter, Obama would place a telephone call with Putin at number one, followed by a visit to the dentist's - with no anaesthesia.
"I don't ever remember a call with Putin that long before," said Michael McFaul, who served as the president's ambassador to Moscow until earlier this year.
As Obama spoke to Putin, and his national security team met to discuss what few options the US had, a small group of protesters gathered outside the gates of the White House, demanding that something be done.
A few hours later, Obama was back in weekend father mode. He and his wife, Michelle, were driven out of Washington to an arts centre in North Bethesda, Maryland, for a dance performance by their younger daughter Sasha, 12. But Putin's threats may still have been ringing in his ears.