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President Obama and Vladimir Putin in 2012. / Carolyn Kaster, AP

President Obama and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin clashed Monday over the causes of escalating violence in eastern Ukraine, according to divergent statements issued by the White House and the Kremlin.

Obama "expressed grave concern about Russian government support for the actions of armed, pro-Russian separatists who threaten to undermine and destabilize the government of Ukraine," said a White House statement.

Putin, meanwhile, denied Russian involvement in uprisings within Ukraine.

"In response to the President of the United States' expressed concern about Russia's supposed meddling in southeastern Ukraine, the President of Russia noted that such speculations are based on inaccurate information," the Kremlin said in a statement.

The conversation came as armed pro-Russian group occupy government buildings in eastern Ukraine, weeks after Russia annexed the Crimea region.

U.S. officials said they are concerned that Russia is fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine, seeking a pretext for a takeover of land as happened with Crimea. Ukrainian officials say Russia is in the process of invading their country.

In the White House version of the leaders' phone call, Obama urged Putin "to use his influence with these armed, pro-Russian groups to convince them to depart the buildings they have seized." The president stressed "the importance of Russia withdrawing its troops from Ukraine's border in order to defuse tensions," the White House said.

Obama also raised the prospect of more economic sanctions against Russia, the White House said: "The president noted Russia's growing political and economic isolation as a result of its actions in Ukraine and made clear that the costs Russia already has incurred will increase if those actions persist."

The White House, saying the call came "at Moscow's request," said that while a diplomatic solution is still possible, "it cannot succeed in an environment of Russian military intimidation on Ukraine's borders, armed provocation within Ukraine, and escalatory rhetoric by Kremlin officials."

In its statement, the Kremlin said that "protests" in certain parts of Ukraine are "the result of the Kiev authorities' unwillingness and inability to take into account the interests of the Russian and Russian-speaking population."

Putin asked Obama "to use the American side's capabilities to prevent the use of force and bloodshed as much as possible," the Kremlin said.

The White House reported that Obama also spoke Monday with French President Francois Hollande about the violence in Ukraine and the prospect of more economic sanctions on Russia for its actions.

The American and French presidents "underscored that Russia will face significant additional costs if it continues this behavior," said a White House statement.

Obama told Hollande that Ukraine's government "has acted with great restraint" during the Russia crisis, and praised its efforts "to unify the country by holding free and fair presidential elections on May 25 and pursuing an inclusive constitutional reform process," said the White House.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Obama speaks to Putin about violence in Ukraine

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