President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday warned Russia that if it further destabilizes Ukraine or interferes in Ukraine's May 25 elections, it will face more sanctions.
"We have a range of tools at our disposal, including sanctions that would target certain sectors of the Russian economy," Mr. Obama said from the White House Rose Garden with Merkel at his side. "If we see the disruptions and destabilization continuing so severely that it impedes elections on May 25, we will not have a choice but to move forward with additional sanctions."
Showing that the U.S. and Europe are unified on the matter -- in spite of concerns that further sanctions could hurt the European economy -- Merkel said, "I am firmly convinced... the United States and European Union need to act in concert here."
Merkel said it's very hard to say when the European Union would move to further sanction Russia but that the May 12 meeting of E.U. foreign ministers will "play a very important role in this respect."
That said, she added, "The elections on the 25th of May are crucial. Should there be further attempts at destabilization, this will be more and more difficult, but for now I am working for elections to take place on that day."
Mr. Obama said that the U.S. would be ready to "move quickly" with broad-based sectoral sanctions.
"Consultations have been taking place... about what exactly those would look like," Mr. Obama said. "There are a range of approaches that can be taken, not only in the energy sector but in the arms sector, the finance sector... all that have a significant impact on Russia."
Mr. Obama said it wasn't appropriate to go into any more detail at this stage since the U.S. and the E.U. would prefer to not to deploy the sanctions. "We're confident we will have a package that will impact Russia's growth... but our hope is that we won't have to use it," he said.
While Europe's concerns have primarily focused on its dependence on Russia as a source of energy, Mr. Obama noted that "energy flows from Russia to Europe... continued even at the height of the Cold War. The idea you're going to turn off the tap... I think is unrealistic."
Merkel's visit to the White House Friday came on the same day the conflict between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian groups within Ukraine's borders appeared to escalate. The government launched a major assault against the separatists in eastern Ukraine, prompting the Russian government to say the two-week-old Geneva agreement to de-escalate the crisis has been "destroyed."
Mr. Obama said that Russia "needs to use its influence over these paramilitary groups so they disarm and stop provoking violence."
He also called the detention of f European security observers, from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), "disgraceful and inexcusable."
Merkel on Friday morning attended a series of meetings at the White House covering a range of issues, and she was slated to attend a working lunch with Mr. Obama.
While the Ukraine crisis was the primary issue up for discussion at the White House, Mr. Obama and Merkel on Friday also talked about a range of issues like cybersecurity and trade partnerships. During their working lunch, Mr. Obama said he planned to bring up other issues such as negotiations with Iran and his recent trip to Asia.At their news conference, the two leaders also broached tension over U.S. surveillance in Germany. Mr. Obama also talked about the botched execution of an Oklahoma inmate.