President Barack Obama convened a video conference with four E.U. leaders on Monday during which they agreed to implement additional sanctions against Russia for its continued involvement in the Ukrainian crisis.
Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said during the White House daily press briefing on Monday that the U.S. expects the E.U. to take additional steps against Russia this week, which the U.S. will follow. Blinken said those measures would include sanctions on whole sectors of the Russian economy, including the financial, arms, and energy sectors.
“Russia bears responsibility for everything that’s going on in eastern Ukraine,” Blinken told reporters, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin has “doubled down” on his support of pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.
Obama spoke Monday with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Blinken emphasised the coordination among the leaders and the agreement to implement new sanctions, something that has been a sticking point between the U.S. and E.U. throughout the Ukrainian crisis.
The new measures will come after of the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which the West has blamed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine for shooting down. Blinken said it’s still “unclear who pulled the trigger,” but said Russia “bears responsibility.”
“They agreed on the importance of coordinated sanctions measures on Russia for its continued transfer of arms, equipment, and fighters into eastern Ukraine, including since the crash, and to press Russia to end its efforts to destabilize the country and instead choose a diplomatic path for resolving the crisis,” the White House said in a readout of the call.
The U.S. and its allies have charged Russia with continuing to support the separatists by flowing weapons across the border, including rocket launchers, artillery pieces, tanks, and armoured vehicles. Russia has continued to deny it is supporting the rebels. But in a somewhat extraordinary public rebuff, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov he didn’t accept his denial that weapons from Russia were helping to fuel the conflict.
“In the battlefield, Ukrainians are doing very well,” Blinken said. “That’s why we think Russia is doubling down.”
Blinken also said Monday the U.S. thinks the pro-Russian separatists could still be in possession of the types of surface-to-air missiles that were believed to have brought down MH17.
Blinken said the White House sees Russia’s “playbook” as attempting to bait Ukraine into taking military action that would give Russia an excuse to launch a veiled “humanitarian” or “peacekeeping” mission by sending troops into eastern Ukraine. He stressed, however, that a diplomatic solution is still the preferred path.
“We would like nothing better than to resolve this crisis diplomatically. That’s now up to President Putin,” Blinken said.
In the teleconference, the five leaders also spoke about various world crises — including the situations in Iraq and Libya, as well as the ongoing conflict in the Gaza strip between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The White House said Obama stressed the need for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.
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