President Barack Obama does not view Russian President Vladimir Putin as irrational — as some commentators have suggested — and expects to speak with him on the phone in the coming days in an effort to resolve the Ukraine crisis, a senior administration official said Tuesday evening.
The latest words from the White House come as the administration and its allies work feverishly toward a diplomatic way out of the Ukrainian crisis that threatens a Cold War-like freeze in relations with Russia, which staged a bloodless invasion of Crimea last week.
They also come as Obama and Putin have exchanged pointed criticism of each other about Russia's incursion into the majority Russian-speaking region of neighboring Ukraine.
Putin told reporters Tuesday that the United States is interfering in world affairs as if were conducting experiments on lab rats. He also said Russia would use force in Ukraine if necessary.
Obama later reasserted his views on the illegality of the invasion, saying Putin must be consulting “a different set of lawyers” to assert otherwise.
In a briefing with reporters, the administration official struck a somewhat conciliatory tone Tuesday evening, admitting that Obama’s 90-minute phone call with Putin on Saturday, in which the two exchanged polar views on the crisis, was “essentially an exercise in talking past one another.”
But still, administration officials cast Putin’s remarks Tuesday as in some way reflecting a pause in tensions. Putin, after all, when asked about the possibility of Russian military intervention in Ukraine, said: "There is no need to do that now."
Administration officials say the diplomatic strategy to end the crisis includes a proposal that doesn't require Russian troops to leave Crimea, but would have them go back to their bases in the region.
Also part of the proposal are an acceptance of international monitors to allay Russia’s concern about safety and security of ethnic Russians in Ukraine and accepting the planned May election for a new government.
In a show of support to Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kiev on Tuesday and offered $1 billion in loan guarantees to the embattled government.
Also on Tuesday, Obama spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel for 90 minutes to discuss a potential resolution to the crisis that would give Russia an "off-ramp" to avoid consequences by way of international isolation.
Obama made it clear to Merkel that he would not attend a G-8 summit meeting scheduled for June in Sochi if the situation in Ukraine remains the same. U.S. and allied participation in meetings in advance of the summit have already been suspended.