Andrea Mitchell: 'Too Much of an Affront' for Obama Himself to Call Yanukovych

By Susan Jones | February 19, 2014 | 6:12 AM EST

Monuments to Kiev's founders burn as anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014.  (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

( - The White House says Vice President Joe Biden called Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday, to express "grave concern" about government forces battling protesters in the streets where they're camped.

Tuesday's deadly violence follows three months of escalating tensions over Ukraine's future -- whether it will align with Europe, as the protesters are demanding -- or Russia.

Why didn't President Obama call Yanukovych himself? MSNBC's (liberal) Rachel Maddow asked NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell Tuesday night.

Biden's call was "not the highest level," Mitchell conceded. "And the very fact that (Russian President) Putin has said, 'Stay out of my back yard,' would mean it would be almost too much of an affront for President Obama himself to get involved," Mitchell said.

"One of the issues here has been this tug of war between Putin saying 'this is my territory,' and the United States saying that we and the E.U. have a vested interested in this."

Body language tells the story. (AP Photo)

Although President Obama insists he doesn't have a "bad personal relationship" with Putin, their body language tells a different story.

Relations between the two countries are notably strained over Syria, the U.S. missile defense shield, Russia's stance on homosexuality, trade, and even American adoptions of Russian children.

As reported on Feb. 7, Sergei Glazyev, an adviser to President Vladimir Putin, accused the U.S. of “unilaterally and crudely interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs.” Glazyev told the Kommersant daily’s Ukraine edition that the U.S. was funding and arming the Ukrainian “opposition and rebels,” who are trying to oust embattled President Yanukovich.

Glazyev's comments at the time were quickly overshadowed by a leaked phone conversation between senior U.S. diplomats discussing the Ukraine crisis. This was the conversation -- apparently posted on YouTube by Russia -- where novice diplomat Victoria Nuland famously said, "“f*** the E.U.,” as she and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine discussed brokering a new government for that country.

On Maddow's show Tuesday night, Mitchell noted that the torch for Tuesday's deadly violence in Ukraine apparently came when Putin announced that Russia would guarantee  billions of dollars in loans for Ukraine. Protesters saw that as the final blow in their effort to have Ukraine align with Europe rather than Russia.

According to the White House, Biden, in his Tuesday phone call to Yanukovych, made it clear that while the United States condemns violence by all parties, the government bears "special responsibility to de-escalate the situation."

Biden also told Yanukovych to address the protesters' "legitimate grievances" and advance proposals for political reform.

The Russian Foreign Ministry blamed the U.S. and Europe for the escalation of violence and called on the rebels to work with the government to find a way out of the crisis. "What is happening is a direct result of the conniving politics of Western politicians and European bodies," the ministry said in a statement.

(The Associated Press contributed some of the information used in this report.)

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Ukraine Violence Comes After Contrasting Messages From U.S., Russia