WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel threatened tough sanctions Friday on broad swaths of Russia's economy if Moscow disrupts Ukraine's May 25 presidential elections, putting President Vladimir Putin on notice for harsher penalties even if he stops short of a full invasion.
Standing in the White House Rose Garden, Obama and Merkel sought to bat down the notion of any discord between the U.S. and European approaches to dissuading Putin from interfering in Ukraine. Obama said the United States and Europe have shown "remarkable unity" in their response so far, though he acknowledged that some countries are vulnerable to retaliation for sanctions and said those concerns must be taken into account.
"The next step is going to be a broader-based sectoral sanctions regime," Obama declared.
"If in fact we see the disruptions and the destabilization continuing so severely that it impedes elections on May 25th, we will not have a choice but to move forward with additional, more severe sanctions," he said.
While Obama and Merkel projected unity on Ukraine, there were differences between the two leaders over U.S. spying, a touchy issue that has exasperated much of Germany after revelations that the National Security Agency had eavesdropped on Merkel's phone calls.
Obama has vowed to end that practice, but a broader "no-spy" agreement sought by many in Germany hasn't panned out.
"We have a few difficulties still to overcome," Merkel said, while Obama said there are "some gaps that need to be worked through."
The leaders said they were committed to a "cyber dialogue" to resolve lingering differences.