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Obama, EU agree on new Russia sanctions

Obama, EU agree on new Russia sanctions
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President Obama and European leaders agreed to impose additional sanctions on Russia during a meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Wales, the White House said Thursday.

“The European Council has been developing options for additional sanctions. The United States has been preparing our own package for additional sanctions. And we will continue to be coordinated with Europe as we move to impose additional costs in the days to come, just as we have worked to be coordinated with them in imposing sanctions in the past,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Thursday.

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The exact penalties for Russia's actions in Ukraine have not yet been finalized, but Rhodes said administration officials had been developing the targets “steadily for some time now.”

Obama and the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko Thursday morning for an update on the fighting in his country’s eastern region. Last month, NATO satellite imagery showed thousands of Russian troops had crossed the border to join pro-Russian separatists fighting government forces, sparking fresh outrage over Moscow’s role in the conflict.

In a speech in Estonia on Wednesday, Obama said previous rounds of sanctions meant Russia was “paying a price” for its activities.

“Capital is fleeing, foreign investment is plummeting — because investors know that today’s Russia is a bad bet, given its behavior,” Obama said. “The Russian economy has slipped into recession. Its energy production — which is the engine of the Russian economy — is expected to drop. Its credit rating is near junk status. The ruble just fell to an all-time low. In short, Russia’s actions in Ukraine are weakening Russia. Russia’s actions are hurting the Russian people.”

Separately, NATO is expected to announce further efforts to support Kiev, the White House said.

“After hearing from Poroshenko today and going around the table among 28 allies, I think we’ll be prepared tomorrow to make some announcements about steps that NATO is actually prepared to take with regard to supporting Ukraine,” U.S. ambassador to NATO Doug Lute said.

Earlier Thursday, Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO's supreme commander in Europe, suggested in an interview with NPR that some NATO members were looking at providing weaponry to Ukraine — a step the Obama administration has so far resisted.

Officials would not rule such assistance in or out, although Rhodes said the administration was “focused on non-lethal in our efforts to do so, although things like body armor, night-vision goggles are filling direct requirements that help the Ukrainian security service.”

“The NATO discussions have also been very focused on supporting the professionalization and modernization and greater capacity of the Ukrainian security forces in both the short and long term, and what can we do in training and exercises and equipping to meet that goal,” he added. 

Still, Lute said, NATO could play a “clearinghouse role” for assistance — including weapons — if member nations decided to provide them to Kiev.