US and Europe poised for co-ordinated sanctions against Russia

Obama’s 50th call with EU leaders on Ukraine crisis marks more unified response

The discussion on US president Barack Obama's 50th telephone call with European leaders on the conflict in eastern Ukraine marks a more synchronised approach on the US and the EU issuing stronger sanctions against Russia over its continued aid to separatists.

In a video conference call, Obama spoke to British prime minister David Cameron, French president François Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi about allowing unrestricted access to the site of the downed Malaysian Airlines passenger jet in rebel-held territory and on the Kremlin's uninterrupted support for the separatists.

"They agreed on the importance of co-ordinated sanctions measures on Russia for its continued transfer of arms, equipment and fighters into eastern Ukraine, including since the crash, and to press Russia to end its efforts to destabilise the country and instead choose a diplomatic path for resolving the crisis," noted a White House statement on the call.

Wake-up call

The day after what the US has said was a Kremlin-supplied ground-to-air missile from pro-Russian separatist territory brought down the passenger jet killing all 298 people on board, Obama declared that the incident should be a “wake-up call” for

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Europe

and the world.

The US moved quickly in the aftermath of the incident, announcing wider sanctions against some of Russia’s main banks and weapons manufacturers the following day, while divisions among the Europeans blocked them from adopting an equally aggressive response.

It is almost two weeks since the Malaysian Airlines jet was shot out of the sky and Russia has extended its support to separatists even after the US has offered a compelling case showing the involvement of rebels in the downing of the airliner. From an American perspective, Europe now seems to be waking up.

The European Union is this week poised to issue new penalties aimed at disrupting Russia's finance, defence and energy industries in response and against Vladimir Putin's "cronies", said Tony Blinken, a national security adviser to Mr Obama, at a White House briefing.

“We expect the European Union to take significant steps,” said Blinken, noting that the US would also impose additional sanctions against Russia’s economy this week.

Surveillance photographs

The new sanctions were signposted after the Obama administration released surveillance photographs claiming to show that Russia had fired artillery rounds on Ukrainian military units from inside its border.

The state department said the intelligence images – satellite and aerial photographs that have not been independently verified – showed burned ground on the Russian side of the border, Russian artillery equipment pointing towards Ukraine and impact craters in Ukraine.

Release of the images points to a potential deeper role for the US in helping the Ukrainians target specific missile locations.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that the Pentagon and US intelligence are developing plans that would allow the Obama administration to identify possible military targets for Kiev's government but that the White House had not yet debated whether to extend support to Ukraine beyond limited intelligence-sharing.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent