BERLIN (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he wished as much emphasis would be placed on preventing an escalation of tensions with Russia over Ukraine as there is at the moment in threatening economic sanctions.
In an interview to appear in Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday, Steinmeier appeared to be referring to threats from the United States as well as from within Germany about the need for economic sanctions against Russia.
“I sometimes wish that the same engagement being used for the debate about sanctions would also exist when it comes to avoiding a further escalation,” Steinmeier told the Sunday newspaper, according to excerpts released before publication.
“We’ve already exhaustively discussed the sanctions issue,” he added, in comments the newspaper said were addressed at German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who has called for economic sanctions against Russia.
Von der Leyen was quoted telling Focus magazine on Friday: “We Europeans say quite clearly that if Moscow continues to destabilize (Ukraine), the third level of sanctions will be implemented.”
The White House warned of heavier economic sanctions than those already imposed over the annexation of Crimea if Moscow failed to uphold a pact reached in Geneva on Thursday - or if it moved to send troops massed on the border into Ukraine.
Under the Geneva accord, Russia, Ukraine and Kiev’s U.S. and European Union allies agreed that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe should oversee the disarmament of pro-Russian separatists occupying public buildings in eastern Ukraine.
“We believe that Russia has considerable influence over the actions of those who have been engaged in destabilizing activities in eastern Ukraine,” U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice said on Friday. “If we don’t see action commensurate with the commitments that Russia has made yesterday in Geneva ... then obviously we’ve been very clear that we and our European partners remain ready to impose additional costs on Russia.
“Those costs and sanctions could include targeting very significant sectors of the Russian economy.”
On Friday, separatist leaders said Russia’s signature on the Geneva deal was not binding on them. Moscow denies Western assertions it is controlling the Ukrainian activists.
Washington did not spell out what further sanctions it might place on Russia. With the EU, it has so far imposed visa bans and asset freezes on a small number of Russians, a response that Moscow mocked. But some EU states are reluctant to do more, fearing that could provoke Russia further or hurt their own economies, which are heavily reliant on Russian gas
Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Peter Cooney