Tough talk against Russia
Group of 7 leaders seek to renew pressure on Putin over Ukraine but are unlikely to expand sanctions.
KRUEN, Germany — As President Obama went into a summit of world leaders in the Alpson Sunday, hemade a promise over beer and wurst with Bavarian villagers to take a tough stance against Russian intervention in neighboring territories.
One of his top priorities at the summit, he told hundreds of people in a town square in Kruen, Germany, is “standing up to Russian aggression in Ukraine.”
But gathering as the Group of 7 for the second time since the Kremlin annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region, the heads of government were focused more on holding their line than in taking any new stands against Russian President Vladimir Putin, the disinvited guest of their annual summit.
British Prime Minister David Cameron called for sanctions against Russia to be renewed. European Council President Donald Tusk urged leaders to “reconfirm the G-7 unity” on sanctions.
And though Obama voiced his support for tougher sanctions, advisors to the president emphasized instead the importance of maintaining the status quo.
“Ultimately it will be up to the Europeans to make those decisions,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. “We’re hopeful that they’ll do so, keeping in mind our shared view that preserving this unity is really important.”
The current strategy is a “steady as she goes” approach, as another senior advisor to the president phrased it.
“I don’t see any change in policy on Ukraine, nor do I see Ukraine fatigue,” said Charles Kupchan, Obama’s senior director for European affairs. “We’ve always said that we favor and are pushing toward a diplomatic settlement to the crisis.”
In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Putin seemed to mock the concerns of the U.S. and its European allies, saying that “only an insane person … can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO.”
The White House brushed off the comments, with Earnest insisting that the G-7 leaders care only about how Russian leaders have “essentially thumbed their nose” at cease-fire commitments in Ukraine.
“To the extent the President Putin’s name is raised,” Earnest said, it’s in that context.
Russia maintains that it has no direct involvement in the Ukrainian fighting.
Though the G-7 was originally formed to talk about economic issues, security concerns linger over all of its recent gatherings, especially since the expulsion of Russia from the ranks. The move wasmeant to isolate Putin and make clear the concerns of the member nations — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S.
The current summit’s conversations unfold after intense battles between proRussia separatists and Ukrainian government forces, after both sides were reported last week to have raided heavy artillery depots supposedly under the guard of foreign monitors. Rebels holding two large regions of eastern Ukraine reportedly lost fighters in a battle for government-controlled Maryinka.
With the fighting intensifying in Ukraine, and fear rising about the violence in Iraq and Syria, any meeting of the G-7 allies and partners would naturally turn to shared values, said Heather Conley, a Europe specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“When there is a crisis in the world, we lean toward our values community to impose sanctions, to really enforce and uphold the international system that [the G-7] largely created,” Conley said. “So over the last year it has made this more important. This transatlantic cohesiveness is critical.”
During their Sunday sessions, Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced support for full implementation of a Ukraine cease-fire plan that was forged in February but has been violated repeatedly.
One question left unanswered, though, is how long they will wait for Russia to comply, and what the international community will do in the meantime. Obama and Merkel discussed the future of international economic aid for Ukraine, but advisors did not signal changes on the horizon.
Merkel opposes providing arms to the Ukrainian government out of concern that the weapons would serve only to inflame the war. Obama shares that concern, Earnest said.
Though the leaders didn’t toughen their positions on Russia, some said they hoped the unity behind those stands would add pressure.
“We would all prefer to see Russia at the table of the forum so that it can become the G-8 group,” Tusk told reporters in Bavaria. “But our group is a community of values, andthat is why Russia is not with us today and will not be invited as long as it acts aggressively against Ukraine or other countries.”
PRESIDENT OBAMA, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande attend a working dinner in Kruen, Germany. An Obama advisor said, “I don’t see any change in policy on Ukraine.”
CANADIAN PrimeMinister Stephen Harper jokes around with Obama at the dinner meeting.