WASHINGTON — Unable to slow Russia’s moves in Ukraine, President Barack Obama moved Tuesday to convene an extraordinary summit of top economic powers in Europe, as aides signaled more sanctions against elite Russians.
Just days before he departs for a four-country swing through Europe, Obama invited the leaders of the Group of Seven nations — called the Group of Eight when the group includes Russia — to meet on the sidelines of a previously arranged meeting on nuclear security Monday and Tuesday in The Hague, Netherlands.
Such summits normally are worked out months in advance, and the rush underscored the stakes of the escalating standoff with Russia and President Vladimir Putin as he moved to annex Crimea.
In Poland to reassure anxious U.S. allies, Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday denounced Russia’s move as “nothing more than a land grab.” He warned that the United States and the European Union will impose more sanctions if Russia doesn’t back off.
“We will make sure that there are costs to Russia for the actions that Russia has taken,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in Washington.
He noted that Obama had expanded an executive order that permits the administration to freeze the assets of Russians who don’t serve in office but wield considerable influence in Russian politics.
“Anyone who understands how the Russian system of governance works and who has influence in that system understands the kind of person that we’re talking about here, and the fact that they have substantial assets, not just in Russia, but abroad,” Carney said.
The response came as Republicans criticized the administration’s response as not strong enough to make Putin blink.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., derided the administration’s move to impose economic sanctions as “another eye-rolling foreign policy moment.” He urged Obama to supply the Ukrainian government with arms.
“If the Ukrainian people are willing to fight and die for their freedom, U.S. and allies should provide them with capability to do,” Graham said on Twitter. “Now is the time for decisive action, not weak rhetoric.”
Carney said the U.S. is reviewing “a variety of requests” from the Ukrainian government, but he said the U.S. remains focused on economic and diplomatic measures.
He called “preposterous” Republican criticism that Obama’s decision last summer not to launch an attack on Syria had emboldened Putin to seek to seize Crimea.
“The fact that President George W. Bush invaded Iraq and had two ongoing wars in the Middle East didn’t seem to affect Russia’s calculations when it came to its actions in Georgia,” Carney said, referring to the country Russia invaded in 2008. “There’s a problem with the logic.”
Obama spoke Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and invited her and the leaders of Canada, France, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union, to meet with him on the margins of a Nuclear Security Summit.
The European Union joined the U.S. on Monday in announcing sanctions against 21 Russians and Ukrainians.
The G-7 leaders already agreed to suspend preparations for a June G-8 Summit in Sochi, Russia, as a rebuke to Putin. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the leaders next week will discuss “further steps that the G-7 may take to respond to developments and to support Ukraine.”
Carney seemed to suggest that the G-8 meeting won’t happen, noting that “summits don’t occur without preparations” and that the planning for Sochi seems unlikely “to be resumed anytime soon.”
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., a former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said sanctions can be effective given the level of Russia’s economic dealings with the West.
“But they are not there yet,” said Hamilton, director of Indiana University’s Center on Congress. “The most stringent sanctions are financial. This is a critical moment in putting together effective sanctions.”
He said Washington needs to send financial aid to economically and politically fragile Ukraine soon. Congress is out on a weeklong recess after the Senate failed last week to take up a Ukraine foreign aid bill because of objections by some Republicans, including Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and John Barrasso of Wyoming. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure next week.
The House passed legislation that includes $1 billion in U.S.-backed loan guarantees to Ukraine, but it lacks changes to the International Monetary Fund sought by the White House, which says the reforms would further boost assistance to Ukraine.
“The more dillydallying here, the more difficult we make the problem for the Ukrainians,” Hamilton said. “For the Congress to take a break at a time you have an international crisis doesn’t help. Time is of the essence.”
Hamilton said Obama has been “pretty effective” thus far in dealing with the Ukraine crisis but warned that “the challenges are ahead of him.”
“We’re going to have to dig in here for the long haul,” Hamilton said. “Russia is not going to give up Crimea. Crimea is gone. You might get some legal framework on Ukraine sovereignty.”
Carney wouldn’t say whether the sanctions would remain in place unless Russia reverses its annexation of Crimea. But he said the results of the weekend referendum and Crimea’s annexation “will never be recognized by the United States or the international community.”
McClatchy Washington Bureau