Obama presses European allies to ramp up economic pressure on Russia

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President Obama held a conference call Friday with European leaders to marshal support for broader economic sanctions against Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, although there was no indication that collective action is imminent.

The White House said Mr. Obama spoke about the “alarming situation in eastern Ukraine” with British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Mr. Obama is in South Korea as part of a weeklong tour of Asia.


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The leaders agreed that Russia has “continued to escalate the situation through its increasingly concerning rhetoric and threatening military exercises on Ukraine’s border,” the White House said. Although Mr. Obama has said additional sanctions against Russia are “teed up,” the statement from the White House said only that the European leaders agreed “to coordinate additional steps to impose costs on Russia.”

Mr. Hollande’s office said the leaders stressed the importance of implementing the terms of an accord reached April 17 in Geneva, which calls for pro-Russia militants in Ukraine to lay down their arms. The French said the leaders discussed the prospect of adopting new sanctions, but Mr. Hollande’s office did not indicate that those sanctions would be levied on Friday.

A spokesperson for Mr. Cameron’s office said the leaders agreed only that “an extension of the current targeted sanctions would need to be implemented, in conjunction with other G7 leaders and with European partners.” Downing Street said nothing about imposing new sanctions on broad sectors of the Russian economy, as Mr. Obama has proposed.

At a press conference in Seoul Friday, Mr. Obama indicated that, barring a full-on military incursion in Ukraine, Russia is unlikely to face beefed-up sanctions, which could ricochet and harm U.S. allies in Europe that do business with Russia. Russia began new military exercises Thursday on the border with Ukraine, drawing condemnation from U.S. officials.

“We’ll continue to keep some arrows in our quiver in the event we see further deterioration,” Mr. Obama said.

The president comments came a little more than a week after the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and Europe signed the agreement in Geneva aimed at easing the crisis. The accord called for Moscow to get pro-Russian forces to leave the buildings they are occupying in eastern Ukraine, but there are few signs that Russia is following through on that or other commitments.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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