U.S. officials say Russia faces new sanctions for continuing to support rebels fighting government forces in Ukraine. The crisis has been the center of discussions at a NATO summit in Wales, as President Barack Obama and other leaders prepare Friday to announce their next step in dealing with Russia.
With fighting continuing in eastern Ukraine, U.S. officials speaking on the sidelines of the summit said it seems likely the United States will proceed with new sanctions against Russia.
Obama spent Thursday meeting with NATO leaders and getting an assessment of the crisis, which has continued to escalate amid evidence that Russia has sent troops and equipment across the border into Ukraine to help rebels.
There was some hope in what one White House official described as “very active diplomacy” efforts by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko - also attending the summit - who said his country and the Russian-backed rebels will order cease-fires on Friday if both sides agree on a peace deal.
“The only thing we need now for peace and stability is just two main things. First, that Russia withdraw their troops. And second, close the border. If it happens, I assure you that Ukraine will find out a peace solution within days," said Poroshenko.
Obama made no public remarks Thursday, but was expected to make a statement at the end of the summit.
One of his main goals at this gathering is to rally NATO members to boost their contributions to the alliance. U.S. officials say the grouping, described by analysts as having lost its sense of purpose in the post-Cold War era, now has reason to invest more in defense.
Analysts say Russia’s interference in Ukraine should serve as a wake-up call to do what the United States has been pressing alliance members to do for years.
Luke Coffey, a Europe security specialist at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, says the United States has been carrying a disproportionately large share of the NATO burden.
“For example, New York City spends more money on policing than 14 NATO members each spend on their national defense," he said. "So this is the scale of the problem and President Obama needs to be very clear to his colleagues that it’s time they fork up because the world is not getting any safer."
On his way to this summit, Obama made a symbolic, but important, stop in Estonia, where he reassured the Baltic States that the United States will help defend them in the event of Russian aggression.
Among the measures expected to come out of this summit is approval of a NATO rapid reaction force and the deployment of military equipment in eastern Europe, where the United States already has been rotating hundreds of troops for joint exercises.