A mechanic cleared debris Tuesday after overnight shelling at acoal mine in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine. Credit ShamilZhumatov/Reuters
Even as the Kremlin voices support for a cease-fire in easternUkraine, American officials remain unconvinced that it hasbacked up words with deeds. Russia has moved troops back to theborder and positioned heavy artillery there in what Americanofficials consider an effort to help the separatists, who onTuesday shot down a Ukrainian military helicopter.
But President Obama faces hurdles as he tries to keep the pressureup on the government of President Vladimir V. Putin. European Union leaders, who are scheduled to meet Friday inBrussels, are reluctant to go along if it looks like Mr. Putin maybe backing down. And American business leaders objecting tounilateral actions that would hurt their companies are kicking offan advertising campaign to oppose Mr. Obama's plans.
Mr. Obama spoke with Mr. Putin on Monday to urge him to take moretangible steps to defuse the crisis, and the Russian leader onTuesday seemed to respond by asking his Parliament to rescindformal authorization to intervene militarily in Ukraine. Americanofficials considered the move positive but symbolic, assuming thatit was really meant to undercut European support for additionalsanctions.
As Secretary of State John Kerry and other American diplomats visited Brussels totalk with their European counterparts, Mr. Obama called PrimeMinister David Cameron of Britain on Tuesday to consult on the nextsteps in the crisis, which could be decided this week. Both menindicated afterward that Russia had yet to take the sort of actionsdemanded by the Group of 7 industrial nations this month to avoidadditional sanctions.
"What we're focused here on is not just the words of the Russianpresident, though we welcome them," said Josh Earnest, the WhiteHouse press secretary. "What we're focused on are theactions."
Mr. Cameron's office said Russia had not halted the flow ofmilitants and arms into Ukraine nor stopped training separatistgroups. The American and British leaders "reaffirmed theircommitment to implementing further sanctions on Russia if thesethings don't happen," Mr. Cameron's office said in astatement.
The Obama administration has developed three options for furtheractions, according to government officials: banning anyinteractions with some of Russia's largest banks; cutting offtechnology transfers to Russian energy and defense firms; andshutting down business with Russian defense companies.
Any of these actions would go far beyond the narrow penalties metedout to date against individual Russian officials, businessmen andtheir companies. But they would fall short of the most powerfulsanctions available, like those imposed on Iran. American officialshave concluded that Iran-style sanctions would not be as effectiveagainst Russia, which has a broader economy. Instead, they arelooking for actions that will have demonstrable impact but alsoavoid disrupting global markets.
Congressional aides briefed by the administration said the plannedmoves would be a forceful increase in pressure on Russia but not afull-scale economic attack. While the plans will not assuage somelawmakers who have called for tougher action, the aides said theywould go a long way toward satisfying many.
Whether the Europeans would go along remained an open question.American officials expressed optimism that they were finding commonground with the allies but recognized that it was unlikely that theEuropean Union, with 28 member states that operate by consensus,would take the same actions as the United States. The Europeans mayalso move to defer the toughest steps.
European Union foreign ministers met to discuss Ukraine on Monday.When European heads of state meet on Friday, crucial to anydecision will be Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, whose countryhas extensive energy and economic ties to Russia. Mr. Obama spokelast Friday with Ms. Merkel as well as with President FrançoisHollande of France to press for continued unity. Vice PresidentJoseph R. Biden Jr. called President Petro O. Poroshenko twice intwo days.
American officials were urging their European counterparts not togive too much credit to Mr. Putin for positive statements in recentdays. Twice before, the Americans argued - in April and then againthis month when he attended a D-Day commemoration in France - Mr.Putin has seemed to embark on what they called a "charm offensive"to deflate any momentum within the European Union toward toughersanctions.
If the Europeans are not willing to impose new sanctions afterFriday's meeting, the American side hopes to reach agreement on apackage that would be ready to use if Mr. Putin does not followthrough on his recent positive statements or reverts back to morehostile actions once the meeting has passed. In effect, that wouldmake the sanctions package a deterrent.
Some analysts said the support for sanctions has diminished inEurope. Macro-Advisory Ltd., a consultant firm in Moscow, toldclients that there might be "so-called scalpel sanctions later thisweek" but predicted that "the emergence of political pragmatism inKiev and Moscow" would avert "more serious trade- andeconomy-disrupting sanctions."
The drive for more sanctions comes as American businesses aregrowing more vocal in protesting the possibility that the UnitedStates may act on its own. While lobbying the White House andCongress quietly until now, leading business groups plan to start awide advertising campaign voicing their concerns.
"With escalating global tensions, some U.S. policy makers areconsidering a course of sanctions that history shows hurts Americaninterests," reads an advertisement to be placed in major newspaperson Thursday. "We are concerned about actions that would harmAmerican manufacturers and cost American jobs."
The ad, signed by Jay Timmons, president of the NationalAssociation of Manufacturers, and Thomas J. Donohue, president ofthe U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will be placed in The FinancialTimes, The Hill, The New York Times, Politico, Roll Call, The WallStreet Journal and The Washington Post. A copy was provided onTuesday by someone not directly affiliated with either sponsoringorganization.
Linda Dempsey, the vice president for international economicaffairs at the manufacturers association, would not discuss the adcampaign but said American businesses would be unduly harmed ifWashington proceeded with sanctions that were not matched byEurope.
"Unilateral sanctions by the United States end up with othercountries and their industries filling the void," she said. "Theharm and the real impact of those unilateral sanctions is on U.S.industries and U.S. workers. It's not that we're out of the marketfor a year or two. We could get out of the market fordecades."
Peter Baker, The New York Times