WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is considering imposing unilateral sanctions on Russia over its threatening moves in Ukraine, a shift in strategy that reflects the Obama administration's frustration with Europe's reluctance to take tougher action against Moscow, according to U.S. and European officials.
Until now, the U.S. has insisted on hitting Russia with penalties in concert with Europe in order to maximize the impact and present a united Western front. The European Union has a far stronger economic relationship with Russia, making the 28-nation bloc's participation key to ensuring sanctions packages have enough teeth to deter Russia.
But those same economic ties have made Europe fearful that tougher penalties against Russia could boomerang and hurt their own economies. After weeks of inaction, the officials say the U.S. is now prepared to move forward alone if EU officials fail to enact strong sanctions during a meeting Wednesday in Brussels.
The U.S. official cautioned that no final decisions would be made until after the European meeting. The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly by name.
The White House's willingness to punish Russia without European backing comes as the Obama administration faces criticism that its repeated warnings about tougher sanctions are little more than empty threats.
"Sometimes I'm embarrassed for you, as you constantly talk about sanctions and yet, candidly, we never see them put in place," Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said during a Senate hearing on Ukraine with administration officials last week.
The U.S. and Europe have levied coordinated sanctions on Russian individuals and companies connected to Moscow's alleged destabilization in Ukraine. Obama administration officials argue that those penalties have had an impact on Russia's economy, citing International Monetary Fund statistics showing a downgrade in Russia's growth this year.
However, officials have acknowledged that the sanctions have not have an impact on Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision-making in Ukraine.
State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said Tuesday that if Putin "cares deeply about his people, about the economy, his own country" the sanctions would shift his calculus.
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