- White House
US President Barack Obama, speaking to the United Nations’ General Assembly on Monday, used the speech to deliver a direct prebuttal to Russian President Vladimir Putin before the two meet in New York later in the day.
At the same time, he may have slightly conceded to Russia’s position on Syria.
Putin and Obama have been increasingly at odds over several international issues, including Russia’s involvement in the civil war in Ukraine and the Syrian civil war.
Putin has criticized the Obama administration’s Syria policy in recent days, while Russia has escalated its support of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad and its coordination with Iran.
In his speech, Obama also took a shot at those who believe in deference to Assad because the alternative is worse, saying that those who adopt Putin’s logic are supporting “tyrants like Assad who drops barrel bombs to kill children.”
But Obama said he was prepared to work with both Russia and Iran to solve the Syrian crisis. And while he said Assad should not remain in place, he advocated a “managed transition” from Assad to a new leader. That could be a compromise that Russia and Iran – which are doubling down on propping up Assad – will certainly welcome.
“Realism dictates that compromise is required,” he said. “But realism requires a managed transition from Assad to a new leader.”
The US has also accused Russia of continually supporting pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine.
In his speech on Monday, Obama directly criticized Russia on both issues, noting the Russian economy’s contraction and the collapse of the Russian ruble.
“We cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated,” Obama said of Putin’s decision to deploy troops in Ukraine to support separatists. “The Ukrainian people are more interested than ever in aligning with Europe instead of Russia.”
“Imagine instead if Russia had engaged in true diplomacy,” Obama added, the camera panning to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “That would be better for Ukraine, but also better for Russia. And better for the world.”
Obama said the US was not interested in “isolating” Russia. Rather, he said, the US wanted a “strong Russia interested in working with us.”
During his address to the UN General Assembly later Monday morning, Putin criticized the US, implying that NATO aggression and Western meddling were the root cause for the instability in Ukraine and Syria.
“The export of revolutions – this time so-called ‘democratic’ ones – continues,” he said.
Obama is in New York for two days for the assembly, where he will hold meetings with several world leaders, including Cuban President Raúl Castro.
Watch Obama’s speech below, via the White House: