Ukraine crisis: Obama and Merkel show united front as they step up pressure


In a determined show of unity, the leaders of the United States and Germany jointly warned Russia it could expect new sector-wide sanctions if it doesn’t reverse course in eastern Ukraine and demanded that it take steps at once to facilitate the release of Western observers being held hostage.

Both leaders stressed the approaching presidential elections in Ukraine on 25 May and warned Russia that it should not attempt to disrupt the process. Were that to happen, “further sanctions will be unavoidable,” Ms Merkel said. “There is a broad range of possibilities that are being prepared for in the European Union. We will move to a third stage of sanctions. I will underline that this is not necessarily what we want.”

For Washington, it was critical that Ms Merkel’s visit should show a common front in confronting Russia as the security situation in eastern Ukraine continues to deteriorate. There seemed to be a clear agreement between them on setting 25 May as the next marker for the consideration of new sanctions and that they would target at least one specific sector of the Russian economy if required.

“We will not have a choice but to move forward with additional more-severe sanctions” if Russia disrupts the presidential poll, Mr Obama said. He described as “disgraceful” the captivity of four OSCE observers, four of whom are German, by pro-Russia militants.

Mr Obama bluntly rejected any idea that Russia is not directly involved in the rebellion in eastern Ukraine. “The notion that this is some spontaneous uprising in the east of Ukraine is belied by all the evidence of well organised, trained and armed militias with the capacity to shoot down helicopters,” he said, referring to the downing of two Ukrainian military helicopters yesterday.

The UN was also holding an emergency meeting of its Security Council yesterday, requested by Russia, whose ambassador Vitaly Churkin called Kiev’s assault on the eastern city of Slovyansk “criminal misadventures”.

In a stern warning to all the NATO allies, meanwhile, the US Defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel, said that the crisis with Russia showed that “renewed financial commitments from all NATO members” would be required.