President Obama and his German counterpart said Friday they are prepared to enact further sanctions on Russia if violence and unrest continue in eastern Ukraine, but the two leaders sounded lukewarm in their desire to pursue such a course.
At a press conference in the White House's Rose Garden, Mr. Obama said the goal of more economic sanctions is "not to punish Russia," but to persuade Moscow to take a different path moving forward. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union will be united with the U.S. moving forward, but said more sanctions against Russia "is not necessarily what we want."
Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel spoke as violence in Ukraine reached new heights. Pro-Russian forces reportedly shot down two Ukrainian helicopters, killing at least two crew members. Ukrainian leaders also claimed that "many" pro-Russian rebels have been killed and wounded in Kiev's first major military offensive since its new government came to power.
Earlier this week, the White House announced a new round of economic sanctions in an effort to convince Moscow to resolve the situation diplomatically and peacefully. Should Russian President Vladimir Putin not change course, and should Ukrainian elections on May 25 appear threatened by violence and instability, Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel appear reluctant but willing to ratchet up sanctions regimes.
"The next step is going to be a broader-based sectoral sanctions regime, and what we have said is that we want to continue to keep open the possibility of resolving this issue diplomatically. If, in fact, we see the disruptions and the destabilization continuing so severely that it impedes elections on May 25, we will not have a choice but to move forward with additional, more severe sanctions," Mr. Obama said. "The goal is not to punish Russia. The goal is to give them an incentive to choose the better course, and that is to resolve the issues diplomatically."
Germany and other European nations, however, face a greater risk of Russian retaliation than does the U.S. Russia is the largest supplier of natural gas to Europe, for example, and nations such as Germany also have close ties to Moscow in the financial and other sectors.
That's led Europe to act more cautiously on sanctions, though Ms. Merkel said she's prepared to use them if the situation in Ukraine worsens.
"This is not necessarily what we want, but we are ready and prepared to go to such a step," she said. "My main aim would be, first and foremost, improve stabilization and to see to it that the elections can happen. We will on this in the next few days but we are also prepared to take further steps."
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