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Washington (AFP) — U.S. President Barack Obama said it was “plain for the world to see” that Russian forces were fighting in Ukraine, but ruled out any U.S. military action to resolve the escalating conflict.

Obama, who is due in Wales next week for a NATO summit, made clear that ex-Soviet states now in the alliance could expect a U.S. military defense, but said such guarantees did not apply to non-member Kiev.

He however told reporters that he would host Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in September to discuss the escalating crisis. The meeting will be on September 18, the White House said.

Obama’s comments came after NATO reported that hundreds of Russian government troops had crossed into east Ukraine to shore up the pro-Kremlin fighters there.

“Russia has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain for the world to see,” Obama said.

“This ongoing Russian incursion into Ukraine will only bring more costs and consequences for Russia.”

The United States and the EU have already imposed a series of punishing sanctions on Russia over the crisis, the worst standoff between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.

Also on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said European leaders would discuss possible new measures against Moscow at a summit in Brussels on Saturday.

“We want a diplomatic solution, and we will not let up on this, but we have to acknowledge that things have become more difficult and worsened again in recent days,” Merkel said.

Obama said he had spoken to Merkel about Ukraine, and that the pair had agreed “the violence is encouraged by Russia; the separatists are trained by Russia; they are armed by Russia. They are funded by Russia.”

The U.S. leader nevertheless said that Washington was “not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem.”

“It is not on the cards for us to see a military confrontation between Russia and the United States in this region,” he said.

Obama added that while Ukraine was not a member of NATO, “a number of those states that are close by are. And we take our Article Five commitments to defend each other very seriously.”

Obama will visit NATO member Estonia before heading to Wales for the NATO meeting.

The U.S. leader insisted that the United States stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with Kiev and was doing everything possible to ensure “they have the best chance at dealing with what is admittedly a very difficult situation.”

Washington’s envoy to the United Nations earlier called on Moscow to “stop lying” about its involvement in the deadly conflict, which the U.N. estimates has claimed more than 2,200 lives since April.

“Russia has to stop lying and has to stop fueling this conflict,” the envoy, Samantha Power, told an emergency session of the 15-member UN Security Council.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington’s focus remained on “non-lethal assistance” to Ukraine.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

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Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

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