Obama, EU leaders raise threat of new sanctions on Russia

PARIS (AFP) - United States President Barack Obama and top European leaders urged Moscow to stop its "intimidation" of Ukraine and raised the prospect of fresh sanctions, France said on Friday.

"The heads of state and government have called for a rapid reaction by the G7 and raised the prospect of new sanctions by the international community against Russia," the French presidency said in a statement.

Mr Obama, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi also said it was "essential" for Ukraine's presidential election to go ahead as planned on May 25. "They have reiterated their demand that the democratic process is able to move forward," the statement said.

"The holding of the presidential election on May 25 is essential to allow Ukrainians to freely decide their future in full transparency.

"Russia, conforming to the commitments made at Geneva, should contribute to the de-escalation, abstaining from provocative statements or acts of intimidation," the leaders added, referring to the now shaky-looking peace deal struck between Russia, Ukraine and the West last week.

"The territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine must be clearly respected," the statement added.

In Berlin, Dr Merkel said EU foreign ministers would meet soon to consider imposing new sanctions on Russia.

"While they continued to hold open the door to a diplomatic resolution of this crisis, based on the Geneva agreement, the five leaders agreed that in the light of Russia's refusal to support the process, an extension of the current targeted sanctions would need to be implemented, in conjunction with other G7 leaders and with European partners," said a statement from Mr Cameron's office.

And US lawmakers, including some who visited Ukraine in recent days, called on Mr Obama to follow through with his sanctions threat.

Senator Bob Corker said Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared "more committed to the failure of Ukraine's struggling democracy than the West is to its success".

"President Putin is only emboldened by empty rhetoric, so it is time for the administration to back up their talk by immediately putting in place tough sanctions against Russian banks and energy companies," said Sen Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's top Republican.

Senate Democrat Carl Levin, speaking in Kiev after meeting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, urged Obama to "make more robust use" of his powers to authorise sanctions against Russia's banks as well as its financial, energy, mining and defence sectors "to ensure that Putin pays a price for his illegal actions against Ukraine."

Mr Obama's critics in Congress, notably hawkish Republican Senator John McCain, have repeatedly urged the president to get tougher on Moscow for its actions in southern and eastern Ukraine.

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