In Brussels, Obama to call for unified response to Russia

President Barack Obama hosts a meeting of G7 leaders on March 24, 2014 in The Hague, Netherlands. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

With the Crimean peninsula in Russian hands and no resolution in sight to the crisis in Ukraine, President Obama will have to make his case for a unified response from the United States and Europe in a speech Wednesday at the Palais Des Beaux Arts in Brussels, Belgium.

Though the president has made public remarks several times during the course of a weeklong European trip, the speech offers his best chance to persuade the European community that tough sanctions - ones that might even hurt their economies - are the best way to respond to Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.

It won't be easy: although the European Union has imposed sanctions on some Russians and Ukrainians, like the U.S. has, their economy stands to take a much greater hit if western nations feel they must take the additional step of targeting major sectors of the Russian economy, like the financial and energy sectors.

The crisis comes on the 100th anniversary of World War I, serving as a reminder of what can happen if a continental conflict devolves into war.

"This is Europe's nightmare happening again, and so they don't want to be escalatory in any way," Heather Conley, Senior Fellow and Director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a briefing last week. "We've got to do this together. We have to bear the pain together. And the U.S. is going to have to show leadership and resolve. And the Europeans are going to hate it, but we're going to have to encourage them to get there."

Europe and Russia also engage in extensive trade relations, with Russia providing many raw materials and a significant amount of energy to European countries. Sanctions on the energy sector wouldn't have much bite if they came just from the U.S., but they would from Europe - though it could leave them with insufficient resources.

The German newspaper Der Spiegel reported earlier this month that a freelance photographer snapped a photo of a document outlining potential British sanctions against Russia earlier this month, which noted that the country should refrain from supporting trade sanctions or closing London's financial center to Russians in the meantime.

That was before Russia annexed Crimea, however, and the situation became more dire. On Monday, the Group of Seven (G-7) nations moved to isolate Russia and promised they were prepared to come through with further sanctions if Russian President Vladimir Putin does not change course.

In a press conference Tuesday with Mr. Obama, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte reiterated the Europeans were prepared to implement additional sanctions.

"Obviously, you can never guarantee that the people in Europe, in Canada, in the U.S. would not be hurt. But obviously, we will make sure that we will design these sanctions in such a way that they will have maximum impact on the Russian economy and not on the European, the Canadian, the Japanese, or the American economy. That is our way," he said. "We worked very closely together and we see total alignment on this issue."

Fortunately for Mr. Obama, Congress seems poised to pass legislation authorizing a $1 billion loan guarantee for Ukraine and sanctions where necessary. The House and Senate had been divided over whether to include a package of reforms to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced he would drop the measure so the bill could pass.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama has some selling to do back home as well. A new CBS News poll reveals that Americans aren't sold on the president's overall handling of the crisis in Ukraine, although a majority does support the U.S. sanctions on Russia.

His Brussels speech will speak to the importance of the U.S.-E.U. relationship for both security and promoting values abroad. The president is also expected to discuss broader issues that affect the European Union and the U.S., including defense, the transatlantic trade alliance and other trade partnerships.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

Comments