The Cable

U.S. Aims to Hold the Line on Russian Sanctions at G-7 Summit

As heavy fighting rages on in eastern Ukraine, the United States plans to urge European allies to extend sanctions against Moscow as continued punishment for fueling pro-Russian separatists in their year-long battle against Kiev’s forces.

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS - MARCH 24:  (L-R) British Prime Minster David Cameron, U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a meeting of the G7 leaders on March 24, 2014 in The Hague, Netherlands. The G7 countries are meeting to discuss the recent developments in Ukraine, and to consider their response and any sanctions to be imposed upon Russia in answer to its annexing of the Crimea region. (Photo by Jerry Lampen - Pool/Getty Images)
THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS - MARCH 24: (L-R) British Prime Minster David Cameron, U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a meeting of the G7 leaders on March 24, 2014 in The Hague, Netherlands. The G7 countries are meeting to discuss the recent developments in Ukraine, and to consider their response and any sanctions to be imposed upon Russia in answer to its annexing of the Crimea region. (Photo by Jerry Lampen - Pool/Getty Images)

As heavy fighting rages on in eastern Ukraine, the United States plans to urge European allies to extend sanctions against Moscow as continued punishment for fueling pro-Russian separatists in their year-long battle against Kiev’s forces.

Senior White House officials said the upcoming summit in Germany of Group of 7 leaders, a collective of the world’s largest industrialized democracies, comes weeks before European Union sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government are set to expire. The talks will be held Sunday and Monday.

“Most urgently, the focus is on maintaining the unity on the sanctions effort that has had very significant consequences on the Russian economy,” Ben Rhodes, the deputy White House national security advisor, told reporters in a conference call on Thursday.

In recent weeks, European officials speaking to Foreign Policy have complained about mixed messages coming from Washington, which has taken the lead role in uniting the 28-nation bloc against Moscow following its annexation of Crimea last year.

In particular, Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with Putin in the Russian resort town of Sochi last month raised questions about whether the G-7 policy of isolating Russia for its support of Ukrainian rebels had ended. U.S. officials say the meeting, which failed to make progress on the implementation of a cease-fire agreement signed in Minsk in February, resulted in frank discussions on other U.S.-Russia issues related to Iran’s nuclear program and the Syrian civil war.

“There was great confusion following Secretary Kerry’s meeting in Sochi,” said Heather Conley, a Russia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That always makes certainly our Central European allies quite nervous when they don’t understand, is this a new — is this a shift in policy? Was something promised? Was something agreed to?”

Still, British and German diplomats speaking to FP say the EU is expected to extend sanctions on Russia at a June 25-26 summit of European countries. They say the bloc largely agrees that EU sanctions must be tied to implementing the Minsk agreement, which calls on Kiev and the Russian-backed separatists to uphold an immediate cease-fire and withdraw heavy weapons from contested areas.

The Europeans believe the Minsk cease-fire accord is not being followed, said a German official, meaning the sanctions should remain in place.

In recent months, Europe had been divided over the appropriate response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. The Baltic states favor a more aggressive response while Italy and Greece seek a more diplomatic route. Meanwhile, Germany and France, the two most powerful EU countries, have been seeking a solution somewhere in the middle.

In Thursday’s call, Rhodes vowed that any “further escalation” by Russia would result in “additional costs and consequences” for the Kremlin. However, few expect the EU, which has strong economic ties to Russia, to stomach additional sanctions beyond the measures up for an extension.

Instead, the G-7 countries are expected to issue a statement condemning Russia’s involvement in the fighting in Ukraine, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 6,400 people since April 2014.

In light of the renewed violence this week in Maryinka and Krasnohorivka near the rebel-held city of Donetsk, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has pleaded with the G-7 countries to increase pressure on Moscow. “The international community must come up with a correct and appropriate response to Russian aggression,” Yatsenyuk said.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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