President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel set a new trip-wire Friday for painful economic sanctions on Russia.
Speaking to reporters following a bilateral meeting at the White House, the leaders said sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy could be imposed as soon as after this month's scheduled Ukrainian elections, if Russia does not take steps to promote stability before the vote. Previously, officials had only set a full-scale invasion as the trigger for the controversial sanctions, which would impact American and European businesses and citizens, as well as Russians.
Merkel said additional action was "unavoidable" if the situation is not deescalated by the election, repeating her call for Russia to work to release observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe who are being held, including four German citizens.
"The next step is going to be a broader based sectoral sanctions regime," Obama said. "If in fact we see the disruptions and the destabilization continuing so severely that it impedes elections on May 25, we will not have a choice but to move forward with additional more severe sanctions."
Obama told reporters that technical experts and diplomats are "stepping up our planning" to impose the sanctions.
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