| WASHINGTON, April 24
WASHINGTON, April 24 U.S. President Barack Obama
is expected to speak to several European leaders on Friday to
try to nudge the EU toward fresh sanctions against Russia over
Ukraine, sources familiar with the matter said.
Disagreements among European Union nations on whether to
impose new economic sanctions on Russia have held up punitive
steps by the United States, said the sources on condition of
anonymity, but Washington could also act on its own.
U.S. officials have grown increasingly impatient with what
they describe as Russia's failure to live up to its commitments
in an April 17 agreement reached in Geneva to try to de-escalate
the crisis in Ukraine.
The United States is also frustrated at the reluctance of
some European nations, notably Germany and Italy, to impose a
new round of economic sanctions on Russia but it would much
prefer to act in concert with the EU rather than on its own.
The sources said Obama was expected to speak in a conference
call on Friday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, French
President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to discuss the issue.
Comment from the White House was not immediately available.
Obama is in Asia on a four-nation trip. Speaking in Tokyo on
Thursday, he blamed Russia for failing to carry out the Geneva
deal and said he was ready to impose new sanctions.
A GRAVE AND EXPENSIVE MISTAKE
In a sign of growing U.S. concern about Ukraine, Secretary
of State John Kerry issued what amounted to a warning to Russia
not to invade. Russia has some 40,000 troops on its border with
Ukraine, some of which staged military exercises on Thursday.
"Following today's threatening movement of Russian troops
right up to Ukraine's border, let me be clear: If Russia
continues in this direction, it will not just be a grave
mistake, it will be an expensive mistake," he said in a hastily
arranged appearance at the State Department.
The United States accuses Russia of backing separatists in
eastern Ukraine as part of a deliberate attempt to destabilize
the region, undermine elections planned for next month, and gain
greater influence over Kiev.
Russia seized and annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine
last month after President Vladimir Putin overturned decades of
post-Cold War diplomacy by announcing the right to use military
force in neighboring countries.
Under the accord struck by Russia, Ukraine, the United
States and European Union in Geneva last week, illegal armed
groups are supposed to disarm and go home, including rebels
occupying about a dozen buildings in the largely
The rebels have shown no sign of retreating.
"As President Obama reiterated earlier today, we are ready
to act," Kerry said on Thursday.
When he announced the Geneva agreement a week ago, the U.S.
secretary of state had said that if Russia did not take steps
"over the course of these next days" there would be additional
sanctions as a consequence.
Several sources said that the United States did not,
however, wish to act on its own.
Washington's basic reasoning is that the practical effect on
Russia's economy and markets, as well as the symbolic import of
further sanctions, will be greater if the United States is seen
to be acting in concert with the European Union.
The United States has so far imposed three rounds of
sanctions in connection with the unrest in Ukraine - two aimed
at Russian targets and a third focused on Crimean individuals
and a Crimean gas company.
The European Union is highly dependent on Russian gas
deliveries, and the crisis over Ukraine has fanned concerns
about future supply. Russia is also an important market for many
EU exporters, notably in Germany.
On March 21, the EU imposed sanctions on 12 Russians and
Ukrainians because of Moscow's takeover of Crimea, bringing the
number of people targeted by EU asset freezes and travel bans to
On April 14, the EU agreed to expand the list of people
subject to such penalties but the bloc has yet to agree on the
names or to actually impose the sanctions.
(Editing by Paul Tait)