Obama rallies Europe on Russia sanctions

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President Obama phoned the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom on Friday in a bid to rally support for stronger sanctions against Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.

According to the White House, Obama told the leaders that the U.S. was prepared to impose additional targeted sanctions, after a deal signed by foreign leaders last week in Geneva failed to calm tensions in Ukraine's eastern regions.

"The leaders agreed to work closely together, and through the G-7 and European Union, to coordinate additional steps to impose costs on Russia," the White House said. "The leaders underscored that Russia could still choose a peaceful resolution to the crisis, including by implementing the Geneva accord."

Obama's call was with President François Hollande of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom.

At a press conference earlier Friday in Seoul, Obama said he wanted to consult with European allies before moving ahead with the additional targeted sanctions. The penalties are expected to hit political and financial allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and could look to freeze the Russian leader's own foreign-held assets.

"We already have a series of additional targeted sanctions that are ready to go and we want to make sure we are consulting with them," Obama said.

Obama said that he would also use the conversations to lay the groundwork, "so if and when we see even greater escalation" from Russia — including the possibility of a "military incursion" — the U.S. and Europe would be prepared to move ahead with broader sectoral sanctions.

"We want to work with them to make sure we're coordinating as much as possible, because that's going to maximize our efforts," Obama said.

European leaders have been reluctant partners in the U.S. push to impose sanctions against Moscow, wary of disrupting the flow of natural gas from Russia. Russian oligarchs are also heavily invested in European financial capitals.

But the White House said that the European leaders agreed with the president's assertion that Russia had failed to abide by a deal brokered last week by the foreign ministers from Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union.

According to the White House, the leaders agreed Moscow had, "in fact, continued to escalate the situation through its increasingly concerning rhetoric and threatening military exercises on Ukraine’s border."

"What you've seen is the government in Kiev doing what it said it would do," Obama said in Seoul. "What we have not seen is Russia speaking out clearly, condemning the pro-Russian militias."

Still, the U.S. appears reluctant to move toward broader sectoral sanctions that could have a devastating effect on Russia's economy.

"We'll continue to keep some arrows in our quiver in the event we see a further deterioration," Obama said.

Obama also acknowledged that it was "self-apparent" that sanctions might now keep Russia from undertaking destabilizing activities in the region.

"There are no guarantees in life, generally, and  certainly no guarantees in foreign policy," Obama said.

The president's comments came as Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov accused the West of attempting to exert control over Ukraine for its own interests.

"The West wants — and this is how it all began — to seize control of Ukraine because of their own political ambitions, not in the interests of the Ukrainian people," Lavrov said, according to The Associated Press.

Lavrov also said that militants in the eastern regions of Ukraine would only lay down their arms and vacate buildings "if Kiev authorities get down to implementing the Geneva accords, clear out that shameful Maidan and liberate the buildings that have been illegally seized."

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, meanwhile, charged that Moscow "wants to start World War III."

"Attempts at military conflict in Ukraine will lead to a military conflict in Europe," he told a Cabinet meeting, according to a transcript posted to the interim government's website.

"The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia already wants to start World War III," he said.

Conditions on the ground in Ukraine continued to deteriorate on Friday.

According to multiple media reports, at least seven people were injured Friday when a man threw a grenade at a checkpoint established by pro-Ukraine activists in Odessa. Russian ground and air forces began a new round of training exercises across the border from Ukraine, intensifying fears of an invasion.