G-7 summit expected to lead to fresh admonishment of Russia

Ash Carter, Martin Dempsey
In this photo taken May 6, 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, right, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testify on Capitol Hill in Washington. Carter is summoning top American defense and diplomatic leaders to Germany Friday to map out a counterstrategy to Russia's military operations in Ukraine and reassure allies worried about Moscow's aggression. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Western leaders at their weekend summit in Germany are expected to further condemn, but not more strictly punish Russia for its suspected role in the escalating violence in Ukraine.

Ukraine is pleading for a response from the Group of 7 leaders meeting Sunday and Monday in the Bavarian Alps, a year after the world’s largest industrialized democracies booted Russian President Vladimir Putin from their ranks in protest over the crisis that has killed more than 6,400 people.

Even now, Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists are engaging in their most violent battle in months, despite economic penalties against Moscow and a 4-month-old cease-fire agreement.

“I don’t think we can kid ourselves that the policy and right now the actions on the ground are producing the results we want,” said Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

She said European leaders will assess President Barack Obama’s next steps as they face a decision this summer about prolonging their sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s government.

“Russia has not changed its behavior,” she said. “If anything, President Putin, I think, is doubling down on multiple fronts, and the cohesiveness feels like it’s not there. People don’t know what’s next, how are we going to continue on.”

Defense Secretary Ash Carter has summoned American defense and diplomatic officials for meetings Friday in Germany on countering Russia’s military operations in Ukraine and assessing the effectiveness of the sanctions and U.S.-backed military operations.

Carter wants advice on whether the U.S. needs to expand military exercises or step up assistance to other countries in the region worried about the threat to them. A senior U.S. official traveling with Carter provided details about the meetings on condition of anonymity but was not authorized to publicly discuss details about the gathering.

At the G-7 meeting at the Schloss Elmau, a one-time artist retreat turned luxury spa, Obama will join the leaders of Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan. The prime ministers of Canada and Japan planned to visit Ukraine on their way to Germany.

Questions persistent within the Obama administration about the direction of U.S. policy toward Ukraine.

Carter and others suggest the U.S. should consider providing lethal weapons to Ukraine. But unless there’s a significant escalation of the crisis, the U.S. and European Union appear to have little appetite for tougher penalties against Russia.

Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said leaders would focus on how to best support the cease-fire deal. That would mean “ensuring that sanctions will remain in place until Russia fully implements these agreements” and considering “options for intensifying the costs in the event of further aggression by Russia and the separatists.”

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is urging G-7 leaders to condemn Russia after this week’s renewed violence. “The international community must come up with a correct and appropriate response to Russian aggression,” Yatsenyuk said.

Putting in place a cease-fire sealed in Belarus in February has proved difficult.

The armistice required both sides to pull back heavy weapons from the front line, but international observers regularly note violations across the board. Regular reports of casualties among government and separatist fighters have continued. But deaths among noncombatants had almost ceased until recent days, in an indication that the warring sides are again increasingly resorting to indiscriminate shelling.

The State Department said it was disturbed by the unrest and said any rebel attempts to seize Ukrainian territory would have costs for Russia, which it accuses of guiding the separatists.

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Follow Nedra Pickler on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nedrapickler

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