President Barack Obama dismissed Russia as a “regional power” and said he’s more worried about a nuclear bomb going off in Manhattan, even as he threatened more sweeping sanctions against the country should it expand its reach in Ukraine beyond Crimea.
Speaking at the close of a nuclear security summit in The Netherlands, Obama said the U.S. is concerned about “further encroachment” by Russia and that he believes more broad-based sanctions that would target “entire sectors of the Russian economy” would be appropriate, “should Russia go further.
“That would be a bad choice for President Putin to make,” Obama said. “But, ultimately, he's the president of Russia and he's the one who's gonna be making that decision. He just has to understand that there's a choice to be made here.”
Those sanctions could potentially include areas like energy, finance, arms sales or trade that exists between Europe and the United States and Russia, Obama said.
The reference to Russia came as Obama defended his foreign policy in the wake of questions from reporters who noted that his 2012 presidential rival, Mitt Romney, had declared Russia to be the U.S.’s biggest geopolitical foe.
But Obama dismissed Russia as a “regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors, not out of strength, but out of weakness.”
“The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and lay bear these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more,” he added.
He said he believes Russia’s actions are a “problem,” but don't pose the No. 1 national security threat to the United States.
“I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan, which is part of the reason why the United States, showing its continued international leadership, has organized a forum over the last several years that's been able to help eliminate that threat in a consistent way,” Obama said.