NEWPORT, Wales — Amid talk of a possible cease-fire between Ukrainian forces and Moscow-backed separatists, President Obama and European leaders gathered at a NATO summit meeting Thursday prepared a new round of sanctions against Russian officials, banks, and enterprises that could be imposed as early as Friday.
The action, intended to intensify pressure on Russia to cease its intervention in Ukraine, came as the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, said he would seek Friday to establish “a bilateral cease-fire” that would lay the foundation for a “stage-by-stage peace plan” for his country. Poroshenko also met with NATO leaders to discuss a new aid package the alliance will send Kiev.
Obama and the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, and Italy agreed at a meeting Thursday “that there need to be additional costs imposed on Russia for what they’ve done in Ukraine,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser.
He said the United States would coordinate with the Europeans in imposing new sanctions to give them the “maximum impact” against Russia. “The key point is that Russia must continue to face costs for its own escalation,” Rhodes said. “At the same time, if there can be a peaceful de-escalation, that’s preferable.”
The extended European package, which was agreed to in principle by leaders at a European Union summit meeting last weekend, would cover state energy and defense companies, but would not include Gazprom, the giant Russian natural gas company, said one British official who requested anonymity under government rules.
Restrictions on Russian banks would be extended, and there would be more measures against so-called dual-use equipment, particularly in the communications and aerospace sectors. The access of Russian banks to the European debt market would be further restricted and limited to shorter-term debt.
Poroshenko said any cease-fire would be conditional on a planned meeting in Minsk on Friday of envoys from Ukraine, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
If the meeting takes place, he said, he would “call on the general staff to set up a bilateral cease-fire, and we hope that the implementation of the peace plan will begin tomorrow.”
Other cease-fire efforts have foundered, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who spoke on Wednesday with Poroshenko about the terms of a potential de-escalation, has maintained that Russia cannot enforce an agreement because it is “not a party” to the conflict. Putin has repeated that claim lately in the face of accusations from Obama and NATO leaders that regular Russian troops are fighting in support of the separatists in Ukraine.
In eastern Ukraine, where there was only sporadic fighting Thursday, a rebel leader told the Russian news agency Interfax that “if there is a real cease-fire on their part, then maybe we will also cease fire.” The leader, Andrei Purgin, of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, added: “We will see how they observe their cease-fire.” Other rebels around Donetsk said that they would keep fighting as long as Ukrainian troops remained.
The German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said that he was moderately optimistic that the crisis in Ukraine was heading toward a resolution. But the Lithuanian foreign minister, Linas Linkevicius, was more skeptical. “It’s very difficult to talk of cease-fire issues when the Russians deny essential facts, like their involvement in the conflict,” he said. “I don’t see much room for de-escalation.”
Despite the talk of a cease-fire, NATO’s language remained tough. “We call on Russia to end its illegal and self-declared annexation of Crimea,” said the secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. “We call on Russia to pull back its troops from Ukraine and to stop the flow of arms, fighters, and funds to the separatists. We call on Russia to step back from confrontation and take the path of peace.”
As part of a new aid package, NATO agreed to send about $20 million to Kiev to help with cyberdefense, training for its military forces, and rehabilitation of wounded soldiers.
The summit meeting is taking place at a moment of rising challenges to NATO practically across the globe, a point Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, the host, made in his opening remarks on Thursday. While declaring flatly that “Russian troops are illegally in Ukraine,” he raised other new threats, like an “extremist Islamist threat that has arisen in Iraq and Syria” that will require the alliance to “reinvigorate and refocus.”
In a joint Op-Ed article on Thursday in The Times of London, Obama and Cameron called on NATO to reject “isolationist” impulses and confront the rising terrorist threat posed by the Islamic State, saying the United States and Britain “will not be cowed by barbaric killers” or “weaken in the face of their threats.”
The principal measure NATO is expected to endorse Friday is the establishment of an upgraded rapid reaction force of some 4,000 troops able to deploy to prepositioned bases and equipment in the east within 48 hours.