KUALA LUMPUR - President Obama today defended new sanctions on Russia, expected as early as Monday, that stop short of striking hard at entire sectors of Russian President Vladimir Putin's economy. He said the measures targeting Putin's billionaire associates will impose substantive pain, and importantly, a united front among western allies.
"The notion that for us to go forward with sectoral sanctions, on our own, without the Europeans, would be the most effective deterrent to Mr. Putin, I think, is factually wrong," Obama said of criticism that the U.S. is not placing sufficient pressure on Putin.
"We're going to be in a stronger position to deter Mr. Putin when he sees that the world is unified and the U.S. and Europe is unified, rather than this is just a US-Russian conflict," he said.
Obama said unilateral U.S. sanctions would only play to Russia's advantage, appearing to affirm a narrative pushed by the Kremlin that the standoff in Ukraine is a Cold-War style conflict.
"It's important for us to make sure that we're part of an international coalition sending that message … rather than falling into the trap of interpreting this as the U.S. is trying to pull Ukraine out of Russia's orbit, circa 1950," Obama said, "because that's not what this is about."
Asked whether sectoral sanctions would only happen with European backing, Obama refused to rule anything out.
"I didn't say only, never, when. I said this is our strategy," he said.
The president made the comments during a news conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. He said consultations with European allies over the past few days had resulted in a consensus that Russia "has failed to follow through on its side" of the Geneva Accords.
"Us and the Europeans have said that so long as Russia continues down the path of provocation rather than resolve this issue peacefully and deescalate, there's going to be consequences and those consequences will continue to grow," he said.