By Kathleen Hennessey and Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says Russia is not yet holding up its side of an agreement to de-escalate tension in Ukraine, and he suggested that the U.S. and its allies are prepared to hit Moscow with additional sanctions in coming days.
“So far at least, we’ve seen them not abide by the spirit or the letter of the agreement in Geneva,” Obama told reporters at a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday, the first full day of a four-country tour through Asia.
Obama noted pro-Russia militias continued to occupy buildings, destabilizing embattled eastern Ukraine and sparking fear of military clashes over control of the region. As part of the agreement negotiated last week, Russia said it would publicly urge such forces to stand down. Moscow also promised to allow international monitors in Ukraine and express support for elections slated for next month.
Holding to the agreement “wouldn’t require a radical shift” for Moscow, Obama contended. “Do I think they’re going to do that? So far the evidence doesn’t make me hopeful.”
Obama echoed comment from other U.S. officials this week, as the Geneva agreement appeared to do little to defuse the tension. On Wednesday, Ukrainian government troops claimed to have ousted pro-Russia gunmen from an eastern town, a claim disputed by a leader of the militants. The Kremlin, which the U.S. accuses of supporting the militias, warned that the government’s operations could spark retaliation.
Obama told reporters that the U.S. had anticipated the failure of the agreement and prepared another round of economic sanctions to try to persuade Russia to rethink its posture.
“We have been preparing for the prospect that we’re going to have to engage in further sanctions. Those are teed up,” Obama said, adding that the U.S. was working through technical details and working with other nations. The White House and European Union have been closely coordinating the announcements of previous sanctions.
The new penalties are likely to come soon, Obama said.
“This is a matter of days and not weeks,” he said.
AFP Photo/Genya Savilov