Obama urges united response against Russia in Ukraine stand-off
US President Barack Obama urged the United States and Europe to join forces to impose sanctions on Russia to stop it destabilising Ukraine, where armed pro-Russian separatists freed a Swedish observer today, but said they had no plans to release seven other European monitors they have been holding for three days.
Washington and Brussels are expected, possibly as early as Monday, to name new people and firms close to Russian President Vladimir Putin who will be hit by punitive measures, but there is no consensus yet on wider economic sanctions.
Speaking during a visit to Malaysia, Obama said any decision on whether to slap sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy at a later time would depend on whether the United States and its allies could find a unified position on how to proceed.
"We're going to be in a stronger position to deter Mr. Putin when he sees that the world is unified and the United States and Europe is unified rather than this is just a US-Russian conflict," Obama told reporters.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has sent unarmed monitors to try to encourage compliance with the peace deal. The pro-Russian rebels seized eight European monitors three days ago and released one of them today from their most heavily-fortified redoubt in the town of Slaviansk.
The detainee was escorted to an OSCE vehicle and driven away. The man came out, escorted by three unarmed men, got into a white OSCE jeep and drove off.
Stella Khorosheva, a spokeswoman for the separatist mayor of Slaviansk, said the observer who left is a Swedish national. "He has a mild form of diabetes and so we decided to let him go," she told reporters.
Asked if he was the only one of the observers who was to be released on Sunday, she replied: "Yes."
The stand-off over Ukraine, an ex-Soviet republic of about 45 million people, has dragged relations between Russia and the West to their lowest level since the end of the Cold War.
Obama said Russia had not "lifted a finger" to get pro-Russian separatist rebels in Ukraine to comply with an international agreement to defuse the crisis.
"In fact, there's strong evidence that they've been encouraging the activities in eastern and southern Ukraine," he said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, in turn, said that in the coming days there would be "an expansion of existing sanctions, measures against individuals or entities in Russia".