SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The U.S. and Europe are laying the groundwork to sanction broad sectors of Russia's economy if Moscow invades eastern Ukraine, President Barack Obama said Friday, even as he acknowledged that those sanctions may fail to deter Vladimir Putin.
So far, the U.S. has slapped sanctions on individuals but hasn't targeted entire economic sectors, such as Russia's critical energy sector. Obama's comments affirmed that, barring a full-on military incursion, Russia is unlikely to face those beefed-up sanctions, which could ricochet and harm U.S. allies in Europe that do business with Russia.
"We'll continue to keep some arrows in our quiver in the event we see further deterioration," Obama said during a news conference in South Korea, where the president was traveling.
The president comments came a little more than a week after the U.S., Russia, Ukraine and Europe signed an agreement in Geneva aimed at easing the crisis. The accord called for Moscow to get pro-Russian forces to leave the buildings they are occupying in eastern Ukraine, but there are few signs that Russia is following through on that or other commitments.
Unless circumstances change significantly, the West is expected to levy new sanctions on Russian individuals and entities. Obama held a conference call Friday night with leaders from Germany, France, Britain and Italy to discuss possible responses.
French President Francois Hollande's office said the leaders stressed the importance of implementing the Geneva accord and discussed the prospect of adopting new sanctions. But Hollande's office did not indicate that those sanctions would be levied on Friday.
Throughout the crisis, the U.S. has sought to convey a united front with Europe, despite the reluctance of some European nations to levy harsher sanctions. Obama said he was "deeply encouraged" by the consistent condemnation of Russia's actions emanating from capitals across the globe.
Still, Obama conceded that those statements of condemnation, as well as sanctions levied on Russia so far, have not persuaded Russia's leaders to change course. But he insisted that Putin understands the economic hit Russia has already taken as a result of its actions, adding that the Russian president "is not stupid."
As if to underscore those costs, credit agency Standard & Poor's cut Russia's credit rating Friday for the first time in more than five years.
The crisis in Ukraine has trailed Obama throughout his travels across Asia this week. As Obama opened a visit Friday to South Korea, Russia's foreign minister was accusing the West of plotting to control Ukraine. A day earlier, Russia announced new military exercises near its border with Ukraine in yet another sign that tensions have only increased.
With Moscow and Washington trading harsh words, the crisis has brought renewed attention to the testy relationship between Obama and Putin, who was asked during a recent news conference whether Obama would save him if he were drowning. Putin said he was sure that Obama would.
Asked to corroborate that claim on Friday, Obama joked that as a strong swimmer who grew up in Hawaii, he'd like to think he'd save anybody.
"I absolutely would save Mr. Putin if he were drowning," Obama said.
Associated Press writer Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.
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