President Obama was in Toluca, Mexico, Wednesday, meeting with President Enrique Peña Nieto. However, he made it clear at their summit that his mind was with Kiev, encouraging peace in Ukraine and threatening “consequences if people step over the line.”
The President was in Mexico for a summit with Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper over trade agreements; Mexico and Canada have been having difficulties agreeing on the oil trade, and their talks have been frustrated by the United States government’s neither approving nor completely rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline plan.
President Obama spoke to the press upon arriving and greeting President Peña Nieto, complimenting his Mexican analog and explaining that he was hoping to see progress in the way that trade deals are done with the country financially. He did not dwell too much on the matter at hand, however, immediately pivoting to discuss the current situation in Ukraine.
“We are going to be watching very carefully and we expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint, to not resort to violence in dealing with peaceful protesters,” the President told the room, adding that he also placed responsibility on protesters to “remain peaceful.” The President did not leave room for interpreting his warning as a suggestion, adding, “there will be consequences if people step over the line.” The President did not elaborate what sort of consequences would occur, nor who would receive them within the government or through what process. He also hinted at what “the line” would be without explicitly laying down rules, suggesting that the Ukrainian military should not involve itself in the situation when civilians are the ones protesting.
Many protesters have died this week in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev during protests in Independence Square against President Viktor Yanukovych’s alliance with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Footage of the past two nights in the city show much of the square burned to the ground, with protests showing no signs of abating. The European Union is reportedly weighing sanctions against Yanukovych for the violence. Yanukovych’s relationship with the EU remains tense after he refused to accept a trade partnership with the group at Putin’s behest.
President Obama used similar language to his comments on the civil war in Syria. Eighteen months ago, President Obama warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that there would be consequences should the premier cross the “red line” and use chemical weapons against protesters. He later elaborated that it was a “red line” only should the rest of the international community agree, and eventually lost out to Putin in negotiations with Assad. Assad promised after talks with Putin that he would destroy the chemical weapons. As of this month, Syria still has 96% of its chemical weapons stock.