Russia's aggression to dominate Obama Europe trip
By JIM KUHNHENN (AP)
March 22, 2014, 3:03 pm TWN
WASHINGTON (AP) — Pushing back against demands to supply arms to Ukraine, Obama administration officials said Friday that economic sanctions would remain the primary weapon as the U.S. and its European allies seek a diplomatic solution to Russia's aggression.
President Barack Obama travels across the Atlantic next week and will seek a cohesive stance from European leaders unnerved by Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula but cautious about the economic punishment the United States says it's willing to unleash if Moscow makes further expansionist moves.
"Our interest is not in seeing this situation escalate and devolve into hot conflict," Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice said. "Our interest is in a diplomatic resolution, de-escalation and, obviously, economic support for Ukraine, and to the extent that it continues to be necessary, further cost imposed on Russia for its actions."
Obama's trip, scheduled long before Russia moved to annex the Crimean Peninsula away from Ukraine, had initially aimed to nurture international relationships as well as feature a high-profile audience with Pope Francis. But Russia's actions will now dominate Obama's visit as the president and U.S. allies seek to confront one of the most serious political crises in Europe since the Cold War.
Underscoring the gravity with which the United States and the West perceive Russia's intervention in Ukraine, Obama will meet with leaders of the Group of Seven leading economies on Monday to display a unified stance against Moscow.
"What will be clear for the entire world to see is that Russia is increasingly isolated, and that the United States is leading the international community in supporting the government of Ukraine and the people of Ukraine, and in imposing costs on Russia for its aggression against Ukraine," Rice said.
Secretary of State John Kerry will join Obama during his trip, which will include stops in The Hague, Netherlands; Rome; Vatican City; and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. While in The Hague, Kerry will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Obama this week ordered sanctions against nearly two dozen members of Putin's inner circle and a Russian bank and he signed an executive order that would allow the U.S. to sanction key Russian industries. U.S. officials said Russia's energy, financial services and metals and mining sectors are among the industries that could be targeted.
On Friday, the European Union announced its own new sanctions, aiming for a deputy prime minister, two presidential advisers and the speakers of both houses of parliament. It also stated that further steps by Russia to destabilize Ukraine would lead to unspecified economic consequences and asked its members to prepare possible targets.
In that sense, the EU actions and threats against Russia fall short of the U.S. efforts, illustrating the European nations' caution over matching the U.S. measures against a country that is so intertwined with their own economies as both a trading partner and energy supplier.
Sen. John McCain, a prominent Republican who recently returned from a trip to Ukraine, said the U.S. needs to provide financial aid to Ukraine, immediately send defensive weapons to the country, resume work on the missile defense system in Poland, develop a long-term plan to get energy to Europe and Ukraine and speak up for the people.
Critics also say Obama has not been swift enough in imposing sanctions.