Russian president Vladimir Putin called US president Barack Obama on Friday to explore latter’s proposal for a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Crimea.
Neither side gave details of the proposal as they trotted out their respective versions of the phone call. The White House played up the fact that it was Putin who initiated the call.
And that he was eager to explore diplomatic solution to a crisis that has isolated Moscow internationally and brought it under Cold War-like sanctions from the west.
In two rounds of sanctions announced over last couple of days, the US has targeted officials close to the Russian president and his personal banker, the owner of Rossiya Bank.
The White House said in a readout of the phone conversation that the Russian president called “to discuss the US proposal for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis”.
Obama took the call in Riyadh where he is now attending to a severely damaged relationship with Saudi Arabia, a close ally struggling to conceal its growing estrangement.
The proposal, details of which were not available, was discussed by secretary of state John Kerry with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, at the Hague recently.
This was indeed the first time the two presidents spoke at Putin’s initiative since the start of the Ukrainian crisis. All the past calls — four in all — were initiated by the US president.
The two presidents have engaged more frequently on the crisis than commonly perceived, contrary to the running narrative of the return to Cold War rhetoric and rivalry.
Their foreign ministers have had even longer engagements. Kerry and Lavrov met for hours in London, before their meeting at the Hague on the sidelines of the nuclear summit.
In a separate statement, Putin’s office said, “Vladimir Putin drew Barack Obama’s attention to continued rampage of extremists who are committing acts of intimidation towards peaceful residents, government authorities and law enforcement agencies in various regions and in Kiev with impunity.”
In that context, the statement said President Putin suggested “examining possible steps the global community can take to help stabilize the situation”.
Putin is facing increasing isolation in the international community, together with the expulsion of Russia from the elite G-8 group of the most industrialized countries.
The US and its western allies have also threatened sanctions targeted at Russia’s key economic sectors such as energy, defense exports and finance.