US and German leaders present united front in warning Putin futher sanctions inevitable unless Russia reverses course
US president Barack Obama and German chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday warned Russia that sanctions targeting whole sections of the country’s economy would be inevitable unless Moscow de-escalates the situation in Ukraine before elections later this month.
Appearing together at the White House, Obama and Merkel insisted they were united in their determination to use broad, so-called “sectoral sanctions” against Russia unless it reverses course in Ukraine by the elections on May 25.
However, in remarks likely to reassure Berlin, which is particularly dependent upon Russian gas exports, Obama played down the suggestion those sanctions would include sweeping restrictions on Russia’s sale of energy to Europe.
“Energy flows from Russia to Europe, those continued even in the midst of the cold war – at the the height of the cold war,” Obama said. „The idea that you’re going to turn off the tap to all Russian oil and natural gas exports is, I think, unrealistic.“
Obama said there was „a remarkable unity between the United States and the European Union“ about how to use leverage against Russian president Vladimir Putin over his continued interference in Ukraine.
European countries disagree over what form additional sanctions against Russia should take. “We have to take those [differences] into account,” Obama added. “Not every country is going to be in exactly the same place.”
However, if Russia impedes Ukraine’s forthcoming elections, Obama said, “we will not have a choice but to move forward with additional, more severe sanctions.“
Merkel also gave a strong endorsement of potential new sanctions against Russia. “In Europe, we have taken a position that should further destabilisation happen, we will move to a third stage of sanctions. I would like to underline this is not necessarily what we want, but we are ready and prepared to go such a step,” she said, according to a White House translation.
“We will see to it that elections can take place,” she added.
The strength of Merkel’s remarks about sectoral sanctions, while satisfying Washington, may surprise other European leaders. Senior European officials have been playing down the prospects of such broad-brush sanctions, which could also hurt Europe’s economy, suggesting they would only be used as a last resort, in the event of a full-scale military incursion by Russia across the border.
Both leaders called for the immediate release of seven hostages who were working as monitors by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe when they were captured by pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.
Merkel, who has spoken directly with Putin to try to secure the release of the hostages, four of whom are German, said their release was „a very crucial step, that needs to happen first“.
The chancellor’s appearance with Obama marked her first visit to Washington since disclosures by the whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed her phone calls had been recorded by the National Security Agency.
Germany has been pressing for months for a mutual “no spy” agreement with the US, without success. Instead, Germany and the US have agreed to an ongoing “cyber dialogue” over issues relating to the balance between intelligence and privacy.
The language falls well short of what Berlin wanted, and Merkel made clear that differences remain between the the two countries on the issue.
She said that, while there was some intelligence cooperation between the countries, there are still differences over “what sort of balance to strike over the intensity of surveillance” used to combat terrorism and the consequences for privacy and individual freedom.