Obama Tells Putin Russia Needs to Remove Troops From Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone to remove the country’s troops and military equipment from Ukraine.

The two leaders also discussed the need to counter Islamic State fighters, negotiations to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and the situation in the Middle East, according to a White House statement on Thursday.

It’s the first publicly disclosed call between Putin and Obama since February 10, and comes as relations between Russia and the NATO alliance have steadily deteriorated. The call follows a meeting between Putin and Secretary of State John Kerry in the Black Sea resort of Sochi last month.

The Obama administration has decried Russia’s backing of separatists in Eastern Ukraine and called on Putin to abide by a cease-fire agreement. Administration officials also have condemned what they describe as Russian “bluster and threats” over nuclear weapons.

Russia’s “nuclear saber rattling” is undermining stability in a futile effort to intimidate European allies, Robert Work, the No. 2 Pentagon official, said on Thursday in Washington. Putin, who has trumpeted his country’s nuclear capabilities in recent months, said last week that the Russian military would add more than 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles to its inventory.

‘Erroneous Claim’

Putin and Obama had a “long and constructive” talk, though it’s wrong to say that Russian troops are in Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call on Friday.

“A lot of heads of states in the West unfortunately keep repeating this erroneous claim about the presence of Russian troops, and every time the Russian side gives explanations in this regard,” Peskov said.

Foreign ministers from the European Union voted to extend sanctions on Russia this week in response to intensified fighting in Eastern Ukraine. Obama, who called for the extension of sanctions, has threatened further costs for Russia if it fails to live up to a cease-fire agreement negotiated in Minsk, Belarus, in February.

While relations between the U.S. and Russia have soured since Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine last year, the two nations are partners in negotiations to curb Iran’s nuclear program. The U.S., Russia and four other nations face a June 30 deadline to reach a final agreement with Iran.

Russia lifted its ban on delivering certain arms to Iran in April. The decision could lead to the sale of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to the Islamic Republic.

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