“There was a rather remarkable statement by a senior Russian government official, who said that – who called on Ukraine to remove its forces from its country, which is preposterous if you think about it,” he told a daily news briefing.
It’s not clear whether Carney attributed the “preposterous” statement to “a senior Russian government official” for reasons of diplomatic protocol, or because he was unaware of who had made the call.
Carney was speaking at around 11:46 AM U.S. eastern time – or about 16 minutes into a briefing which began at 11.30.
Putin’s call for Ukraine to pull its forces out of the eastern part of the country was made during a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which was first reported five-and-a-half hours before the White House briefing began.
The Kremlin issued its readout on the conversation with Merkel at 2 PM Moscow time (6 AM U.S. eastern time): “Vladimir Putin stressed that the most important thing now is to withdraw all military units from the south-eastern parts, stop the violence, and immediately start a national dialogue that would involve all regions and all political forces within the framework of a constitutional reform.”
Official Russian media put the news out on the wires within minutes. Interfax’s time stamp for its report was 2:07 PM, Moscow time.
Ukraine’s interim government is struggling to put down unrest in cities in the east and southeast, where pro-Russian separatists continue to control government and other facilities. The Obama administration has accused Russia of destabilizing its neighbor, and has imposed some sanctions against officials close to Putin – although not against Putin himself.
Early Friday morning Ukrainian forces launched a new operation against pro-Russian fighters in the eastern town of Slavyansk, and there were reports that at least one Ukrainian helicopter had been shot down.
President Obama will be meeting with Merkel at the White House on Friday, with the Ukraine crisis high on the agenda.
“The continued failure by Russia to abide by its commitments in the Geneva agreement will be a focus of the conversation,” Carney said.
The April 17 agreement in Geneva, negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, called for an end to the occupation of the eastern Ukraine facilities and for the separatists to surrender their weapons. The administration said at the time action was expected to begin almost immediately, or that Russia would face further costs “in the coming days.”