The public statements by members of President Obama’s administration in the run-up to Russia’s military movements in the Ukrainian region of Crimea suggest Russian officials kept the U.S. in the dark about their intentions until it was too late.
At 11 a.m., Secretary of State John Kerry implied the situation was contained enough that it was sufficient for him to caution Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a phone call Friday morning against the appearance of violating Ukrainian sovereignty – and Lavrov assured him they were not.
“I talked this morning with Foreign Minister Lavrov about the reports we are getting about Russian presence and what it may be choosing to do,” Kerry told reporters at the State Department. “While we were told that they are not engaging in any violation of the sovereignty and do not intend to … it is important for everybody to be extremely careful not to inflame the situation and not to send the wrong messages,” he said.
Less than seven hours later, it seemed everything had changed.
Just before 6 p.m., U.S. officials said that in fact, Russian military aircraft had landed at a military air base near Simferopol, the regional capital of Crimea.
Around the same time, President Obama came before cameras in the White House briefing room with a new, sharp message: “We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine,” he said.
The Russians may argue that, since the country does have a naval base in Simferopol, the landing of military aircraft there doesn’t constitute a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty – so technically, Russia had been forthcoming with the U.S. the whole time. ”
But the day’s rhetorical changes provided a glimpse behind the curtain of the U.S. and Russia’s current relationship.