Tough talk against Rus­sia

Group of 7 lead­ers seek to re­new pres­sure on Putin over Ukraine but are un­likely to ex­pand sanc­tions.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Christi Par­sons christi.par­sons@la­times.com

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.”

Michael Kap­peler Pool Photo

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.”

Adri­anWyld Canadian Press

CANADIAN PrimeMin­is­ter Stephen Harper jokes around with Obama at the din­ner meet­ing.

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