SEOUL, South Korea — The U.S. and Europe are laying the groundwork to sanction broad sections of Russia's economy if Moscow mounts a military incursion in eastern Ukraine, President Barack Obama said Friday, even as he acknowledged those sanctions may fail to deter Vladimir Putin.
Obama's comments offered the clearest indication to date of what threshold Russia would have to cross to trigger stepped-up sanctions from the U.S. and its partners. So far, the U.S. has slapped sanctions on individuals but hasn't targeted entire economic sectors, which would likely ricochet and end up harming U.S. allies in Europe that do business with Russia.
"We'll continue to keep some arrows in our quiver in the event we see further deterioration," Obama said during a news conference in South Korea, where the president was traveling.
Obama said he planned to call key European leaders on Friday evening to discuss what's transpired since a deal was reached in Geneva last week to de-escalate the crisis. Echoing harsh comments from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Obama said Russia has failed to uphold the deal by urging pro-Russian militias to give up buildings they've occupied in Ukrainian cities.
Seeking to convey strong unity among the U.S. and European nations, Obama said he was "deeply encouraged" by the consistent condemnation of Russia's actions in Crimea that have emanated from capitals in Europe, North America and across the globe.
Still, Obama conceded that those statements of condemnation, as well as sanctions levied on Russia so far, have not persuaded Russia's leaders to change course. But he insisted that Putin understands the economic hit Russia has already taken as a result of its actions, adding that the Russian president "is not stupid."
As if to underscore those costs, credit agency Standard & Poor's cut Russia's credit rating Friday for the first time in more than five years.
The crisis in Ukraine has continually trailed Obama as he travels across Asia this week. As Obama opened a visit to South Korea on Friday, Russia's foreign minister was accusing the West of plotting to control Ukraine. A day earlier, Russia announced new military exercises near its border with Ukraine in yet another sign that tensions have only increased.
With Moscow and Washington trading harsh words, the crisis has brought renewed attention to the testy relationship between Obama and Putin, who was asked during a news conference earlier in the week whether Obama would save him if he were drowning. Putin said he was sure that Obama would.
Asked to corroborate that claim on Friday, Obama joked that as a strong swimmer who grew up in Hawaii, he'd like to think he'd save anybody.
"I absolutely would save Mr. Putin if he were drowning," Obama said.