Disagreements among European Union nations on whether to impose
new economic sanctions on Russia have held up punitive steps by the
United States, said the sources on condition of anonymity, but
Washington could also act on its own.
U.S. officials have grown increasingly impatient with what they
describe as Russia's failure to live up to its commitments in an
April 17 agreement reached in Geneva to try to de-escalate the
crisis in Ukraine.
The United States is also frustrated at the reluctance of some
European nations, notably Germany and Italy, to impose a new round
of economic sanctions on Russia but it would much prefer to act in
concert with the EU rather than on its own.
The sources said Obama was expected to speak in a conference call on
Friday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President
Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime
Minister Matteo Renzi to discuss the issue.
A senior administration official confirmed that the president
intended to call European allies to discuss sanctions.
Obama is in Asia on a four-nation trip. Speaking in Tokyo on
Thursday, he blamed Russia for failing to carry out the Geneva deal
and said he was ready to impose new sanctions.
A GRAVE AND EXPENSIVE MISTAKE
In a sign of growing U.S. concern about Ukraine, Secretary of State
John Kerry issued what amounted to a warning to Russia not to
invade. Russia has some 40,000 troops on its border with Ukraine,
some of which staged military exercises on Thursday.
"Following today's threatening movement of Russian troops right up
to Ukraine's border, let me be clear: If Russia continues in this
direction, it will not just be a grave mistake, it will be an
expensive mistake," he said in a hastily arranged appearance at the
The United States accuses Russia of backing separatists in eastern
Ukraine as part of a deliberate attempt to destabilize the region,
undermine elections planned for next month, and gain greater
influence over Kiev.
Russia seized and annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine last
month after President Vladimir Putin overturned decades of post-Cold
War diplomacy by announcing the right to use military force in
Under the accord struck by Russia, Ukraine, the United States and
European Union in Geneva last week, illegal armed groups are
supposed to disarm and go home, including rebels occupying about a
dozen buildings in the largely Russian-speaking east.
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The rebels have shown no sign of retreating.
"As President Obama reiterated earlier today, we are ready to act,"
Kerry said on Thursday.
When he announced the Geneva agreement a week ago, the U.S.
secretary of state had said that if Russia did not take steps "over
the course of these next days" there would be additional sanctions
as a consequence.
Several sources said that the United States did not, however, wish
to act on its own.
Washington's basic reasoning is that the practical effect on
Russia's economy and markets, as well as the symbolic import of
further sanctions, will be greater if the United States is seen to
be acting in concert with the European Union.
The United States has so far imposed three rounds of sanctions in
connection with the unrest in Ukraine — two aimed at Russian targets
and a third focused on Crimean individuals and a Crimean gas
The European Union is highly dependent on Russian gas deliveries,
and the crisis over Ukraine has fanned concerns about future supply.
Russia is also an important market for many EU exporters, notably in
On March 21, the EU imposed sanctions on 12 Russians and Ukrainians
because of Moscow's takeover of Crimea, bringing the number of
people targeted by EU asset freezes and travel bans to 33.
On April 14, the EU agreed to expand the list of people subject to
such penalties but the bloc has yet to agree on the names or to
actually impose the sanctions.
(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal;
editing by Paul Tait)
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