Merkel speaks softly, Obama holds a stick

President Obama and Chancellor Merkel Image copyright Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says there is no military solution to the situation in Ukraine, only a diplomatic one.

US President Barack Obama says yes to diplomacy, but then adds: "Now, it is true that if, in fact, diplomacy fails, what I've asked my team to do is to look at all options.

"What other means can we put in place to change Mr Putin's calculus? And the possibility of lethal defensive weapons is one of those options that's being examined."

So does this mean (and does Vladimir Putin hope) that there is an irreparable fissure between the US and Europe over what to do about Ukraine?

Well, probably not.

What has been most remarkable so far is the extent to which the European countries and the US have worked together on putting together and maintaining a sanctions regime against Russia, even though it could easily be argued that sanctions cost the US little, but hurt Europe a great deal.

Regarding the sale of weapons to the government in Kiev, which she strongly opposes, Merkel herself said: "As to the export of arms, I have given you my opinion, but you may rest assured that no matter what we decide, the alliance between the United States and Europe will continue to stand, will continue to be solid, even though on certain issues we may not always agree."

It may be that there is something of a good cop/bad cop act going on here, Merkel saying to Putin quietly: "Look, you sign up to a ceasefire or I won't able to stop the US president pouring his sophisticated weaponry into Ukraine."

President Teddy Roosevelt's foreign policy over 100 years ago was summed up by his phrase "speak softly but carry a big stick".

Frau Merkel will do the speaking quietly, while Barack Obama keeps hold of the big stick.