PARIS – Laying out clear conditions, President Barack Obama and Western allies opened a pathway for Russia to ease tensions in Ukraine on Thursday but pointedly warned Moscow it could face new sanctions within weeks if Vladimir Putin fails to go along.
The leaders, who were gathered in Brussels for a wealthy-nations summit, said the Russian president could avoid tougher penalties in part by recognizing the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government and ending support for an insurgency in eastern cities that is widely believed to be backed by the Kremlin. There was no mention of rolling back Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, which precipitated the European crisis.
“We are at a point where Mr. Putin has the chance to get back into a lane of international law,” Obama said during a news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. But Obama also said the West “can’t simply allow drift” in Ukraine, where insurgents continue to clash with government forces in eastern cities.
From Brussels, Obama and other leaders jetted to France ahead of events marking today’s 70th anniversary of the D-Day Normandy invasion that paved the way for the Allied victory in World War II.
This time Putin was on the scene. And Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel each were using the commemorations as a backdrop for separate meetings with the Russian president, who arrived in Paris.
Aides said Obama was pressing Hollande, Cameron and Merkel to outline for Putin the specific conditions he would have to meet in order to avoid more sanctions. The West wants Putin to recognize the results of Ukraine’s May 25 election and start a dialogue with President-elect Petro Poroshenko, end support for the pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine and stop the flow of arms across the Russian border.
Western leaders voiced some cautious optimism that Putin may be shifting his view of the situation, noting that he did not reject the results of Ukraine’s elections outright, nor was there any overt Russian interference in the voting. But with violence still raging near Russia’s border with Ukraine, it remained unclear whether Putin was ready to fully de-escalate the monthslong crisis or whether the West’s threat of more sanctions could push him in that direction.
The U.S. and the European Union already have imposed sanctions on businesses and individuals with ties to Putin. But they have stopped short of slapping harsher penalties on Russia’s key economic sectors, including its energy industry.