Reports that a Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine rattled top lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who warned that the conflict along Russia's border would enter a "new dimension."
"If this were true it would certainly be something very serious and NATO would need to reconfigure its formula with Russia as an adversary instead of a partner," said New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"President Obama announced slapping of sanctions on Russia precisely because [Russian President Vladimir Putin] seems to be encouraging unrest rather than trying to quell it. Obviously this would be a very very serious matter," Mr. Engel said. "If it were true, and again it is just speculation, I hope it would open the eyes of some countries that have been reluctant to tell Putin that his aggression, his encouragement of separatism cannot be allowed to stand."
He continued: "We are going into a new dimension when we start to talk about a passenger airliner. These are not warplanes. These are innocent civilians. It's an act of terror. That's what it is."
The airliner incident occurred a day after Mr. Obama announced a new round of economic sanctions on major financial, energy and defense companies in Russia to try to force Moscow to help quell separatist fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Sen. John McCain said that the involvement of separatist fighters or Russian weapons in brining down a passenger jet should dramatically alter the stance of the U.S. and its European allies in the conflict.
"It will have huge effect, including maybe finally we will start giving arms to the Ukrainians. … Maybe finally there will be some sanctions that really have teeth to them," said Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican and leading voice on foreign and military policy.
He ruled out Ukrainian military as the culprit if the jetliner was shot down, saying they don't have the capability to hit a plane flying at 30,000 feet.
Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the situation "tragic."
"If that plane was shot down — an innocent plane of civilians — there has to be real consequences for whoever is responsible," he said, adding that he was waiting to get all the facts before commenting further.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled to receive a briefing on the incident Thursday afternoon.
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