President Obama on Thursday urged Congress not to pursue new economic sanctions on Russia, saying the move would risk putting the United States out of step with Europe in its response to Moscow's intervention in Ukraine.
In speaking to the White House Export Council, Obama said such an effort would be "counterproductive" and a mistake strategically that could ultimately help Russian President Vladimir Putin drive a wedge into the international effort to contain him.
"Putin does not have good cards, and he has not played them as well as the Western press seems to give him credit for," Obama said. "Putin will succeed if he creates a rift in the Trans-Atlantic relationship, if we see Europe divided from the United States. That would be a strategic victory for him and I intend on preventing that."
Some Republicans in Congress, including Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have called on the administration to ratchet up sanctions. But Obama said the measures already in place have had a significant impact on the Russian economy and that will increase pressure on Putin to reconsider his support for separatists in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
But European countries, whose economies are more closely tied with Russia's, have generally been more reticent to enact more sweeping and punitive measures.
"The idea that ramping up sanctions further and further and further and somehow Putin will change is mind is a miscalculation," Obama said. "We've been successful with sanctions because we've been systematic about making sure there is not a lot of daylight between us and the Europeans. That should continue. Sometimes it's tempting to say we can go even further, but that won't do us any good if suddenly the Europeans peel off."