President Obama: Blames Russia for Ukraine violence, weighs Syria strikes, touts economic growth

President Barack Obama speaks in the White House Briefing Room, Aug. 28, 2014, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: ABC News)

WASHINGTON (WJLA/AP) - President Barack Obama is blaming Russia for the escalating violence in eastern Ukraine.

UKRAINE: Obama spoke at the White House Thursday amid escalating tensions between Russia and the West. He said Russia is training, arming and funding pro-Russian separatists in Russia. Obama said new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain to see.

Obama said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will visit the White House next month. It's Poroshenko's first visit since becoming president and a major display of unity between the U.S. and Ukraine.

Obama said he spoke by phone Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He said Russia's incursion into Ukraine will bring additional consequences.

Ukrainian officials say two Russian military columns have rolled into the southeastern part of Ukraine after missiles were fired at a border post.

SYRIA: Meantime, Obama played down the prospect of imminent U.S. military action in Syria, saying "we don't have a strategy yet" for degrading the violent militant group seeking to establish a caliphate in the Middle East.

Obama said confronting the Islamic State militants requires a regional strategy with support from other states in the region. He said it's time for states in the region to "stop being ambivalent" about the aims of extremist groups like the Islamic State.

"They have no ideology beyond violence and chaos," Obama said.

The U.S. is already striking Islamic State targets in Iraq, and officials have said the president is considering similar action in neighboring Syria. The militants have moved with ease between the two countries, effectively blurring the border.

ECONOMY: Obama on Thursday was also drawing attention to heartening evidence of U.S. economic growth. He said,"there's reason to feel good for the direction we are heading."

He said he still wants to push Congress to take more action to move the economy along.

The government on Thursday said the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 4.2 percent in the April-June quarter. The figures represented a reversal from the first quarter of the year when the economy shrunk at a 2.1 percent annual rate.

The economic recovery has been a difficult issue for Obama because improvements have not matched public perceptions.