Obama works to get Europe behind him on Ukraine

Washington CNN  — 

A year after the G7 major world powers forced Russia from their ranks, western leaders will convene again this weekend in Germany facing unabated violence in Ukraine and an entrenched Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ensconced in a remote hotel in the Bavarian Alps, President Barack Obama will urge his European counterparts to extend the economic sanctions on Russia that have weakened the Ruble and caused some discontent among the Russian population, administration officials said Thursday.

But even the White House admits those measures have done little to slow the Russian-backed campaign along the border with Ukraine, where thousands have died since the conflict began last year.

Obama must also shore up support among U.S. allies for his strategy against ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq, where the fall of Ramadi has prompted new calls for ramped-up assistance to the Iraqi military and Sunni fighters in Anbar province.

The President planned to meet in Germany Monday with Iraq’s prime minister Haider al-Abadi, who was expected to press the United States for more equipment he claims is desperately needed to combat ISIS advances.

But Obama isn’t likely to announce any new assistance to Iraq this weekend, according to the officials, who say the administration is continually assessing its training and equipment shipments to Baghdad.

Like in Iraq, Obama has been reluctant to provide lethal aid to Ukrainian troops, currently engaged in some of the fiercest fighting to date in their conflict with Russian-backed separatists.

Obama has so far resisted sending arms to the Ukrainians. Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in Washington last month, said the shipments were still under consideration, and senior members of Obama’s administration – including Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey – have voiced openness to arms shipments.

But European leaders, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have fiercely opposed lethal aid out of fear the violence could escalate. Obama was set to meet one-on-one with Merkel after touring a Bavarian village with her on Sunday.

Any decision on sending arms to Ukraine appeared unlikely at Sunday and Monday’s G7 meeting, where White House officials say the focus will remain on tightening sanctions on Russia.

“I think our general view is ‘steady as she goes’ on that front,” said Charles Kupchan, Obama’s senior director for European affairs. “We’ve always said that we favor and are pushing toward a diplomatic settlement to the crisis.”

A diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine as so far evaded Western leaders, who attempted to broker a ceasefire earlier this year in Belarus. Since then, there have been multiple violations to the so-called Minsk Agreement, including advances by heavy weaponry. Observers near the eastern city of Donetsk reported heavy artillery fire Wednesday, saying it was some of the worst fighting since the agreement was declared.

U.S. officials hope those violations will spur European leaders into expanding the economic sanctions in place against Russia, which have hurt the country’s economy but not yet prompted a change in strategy from Putin.

“Russia has not changed its behavior,” said Heather Conley, the director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “If anything, President Putin I think is doubling down on multiple fronts. And the cohesiveness feels like it’s not there.”

European leaders – who also confront economic instability stemming from Greece’s debt crisis – will decide at a separate meeting later this month whether to continue their sanctions on Russia.

“Clearly President Putin’s calculus has not fully shifted by any means,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, adding that Western sanctions had delivered a “tremendous hit to the Russian economy.”

“It’s important that that pressure is sustained,” he said.