- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2014

The crisis in Ukraine, and Germany’s reluctance to impose deeper sanctions on Russia, will dominate a meeting Friday when President Obama hosts German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House.

Mr. Obama is expected to lobby Mrs. Merkel to put more economic pressure on Moscow for its continued violation of a deal reached in Geneva on April 17 to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine, where pro-Russia militants have seized government buildings in about a dozen cities.

“There’s no question that the situation in Ukraine, the continued failure by Russia to abide by its commitments in the Geneva agreement will be a focus of the conversation,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

Mrs. Merkel is the first European leader to visit Washington since the Ukrainian crisis began in March with Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula. She is also on better terms with Russian President Vladimir Putin than Mr. Obama is, having spoken to the Russian leader by phone at least a dozen times since the crisis began.

In addition to four hours of meetings scheduled with Mr. Obama, Mrs. Merkel will hold a joint press conference Friday with the president.

Before her arrival in Washington, Mrs. Merkel said she was working through various channels to negotiate with Russia, but added that “there is a readiness to impose economic sanctions at the same time.”

“Should all this fail to bring results, we also should not fear the necessity of further sanctions,” she said.

But many of her fellow Germans don’t want to antagonize Russia. Germany gets about one-third of its natural gas from Russia. About 6,000 German companies do business in Russia, while the jobs of 350,000 German workers depend on Russian trade, according to the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, an organization representing Germany’s main business lobbies.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder celebrated his 70th birthday this week in St. Petersburg at a bash with Mr. Putin, a close friend whom Mr. Schroeder has called “a flawless democrat.” The birthday party was hosted by Nord Stream, which is 51 percent owned by OAO Gazprom, the Russian state gas monopoly and the nation’s biggest company.

Mr. Schroeder is a member of the German Social Democratic Party, now governing in coalition with Mrs. Merkel’s party.

“There are big tensions in the SPD on Russia-Ukraine,” said Joerg Forbrig, a senior program officer of the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. in Berlin.

German Social Democratic Party Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier “wants a balanced approach, but many party rank and file want the old line of understanding, engagement and no difficulties with Russia,” he said.

The U.S. announced more targeted sanctions this week against Russia for its “illegal intervention” in Ukraine, imposing travel and economic measures on seven Russian government officials, including two members of Mr. Putin’s inner circle, and 17 firms linked to his cronies.

Mr. Obama has warned that the U.S. is ready to impose deeper sanctions on key sectors of the Russian economy, such as its oil and gas industries, if Mr. Putin refuses to ease the crisis.

Mr. Carney told reporters Thursday that there are no further complications in Mr. Obama’s relationship with Mrs. Merkel since she expressed deep resentment last year over revelations that the National Security Agency had spied on her personal and professional communications.

The White House spokesman said the administration expects “to continue a path that sees an international coalition escalating the costs that Russia will have to endure and pay if Russia refuses to keep its commitments.”

“There’s no question that imposing sectoral sanctions on the Russian economy would have a negative impact on the global economy these are issues that we obviously take into consideration and we study as we craft sanctions,” Mr. Carney said.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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