- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Senate Democrats and Republicans pressed the Obama administration for clarity Wednesday on why it has not been more aggressive in using economic sanctions to deter ongoing Russian meddling in Ukraine.

Some went so far as claim White House foot-dragging is turning the U.S. into a “paper tiger” in the region.

Administration officials pushed back during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, claiming they’ve already leveled harsh sanctions and are now seriously preparing to push forward with more.

But the assertions seemed to fall short of cracking a prevailing perception on Capitol Hill that the administration has simply failed to garner widespread support for the sanctions strategy among European Union nations, who depend heavily on trade with Russia — particularly in the energy sector.

“I fully appreciate the importance of acting in concert with our European allies to ensure that sanctions have their intended effect, but at the same time we should not hesitate to act unilaterally to support an independent Ukraine and counter malign Russian interference,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

“Unless Putin is confronted with strong disincentives, he will continue to ensure that the Ukrainian government will not be able to stabilize the situation and that he will position himself to fill the power vacuum when the government can’t fill the needs of parts of the Ukrainian people,” Mr. Menendez said at the start of Wednesday’s hearing.

Ukraine’s central government has stabilized during recent weeks and made significant gains toward containing pro-Russian separatists in the nation’s eastern half. But Mr. Menendez said Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to provide military equipment to separatists and to take such aggressive moves as cutting natural gas to western Ukraine.

“What are we waiting for?” he asked during Wednesday’s hearing.

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland responded that the Obama administration is, in effect, waiting for the EU to put its support behind a new set of sanctions, so that that the United States is not left standing alone with with the strategy.

“These sanctions will be more effective, they will be stronger if the U.S. and Europe work together,” said Mrs. Nuland, who added that she is hopeful that EU nations will come around soon.

“It is my judgement, based on hours and hours of consultation with Europeans and trips across 20 of the 28 European Union countries that if Russia does not stop rearming separatists, does not stop its financial support, that we will have European support for another round of sanctions,” she said. “It may not be completely parallel to everything we want to do, but this is a process moving forward.”

Assistant Treasury Secretary for Terrorist Financing Daniel Glaser told lawmakers the Obama administration has already “done real damage” to the Russian economy by freezing the U.S. assets of 52 individuals and 19 entities, including four banks, as well as blocking their access to U.S. markets.

As a result, Mr. Glaser said, the Russian economy has experienced a capital flight of $50 billion, will likely lose $100 billion by the end of 2014. Russian banks are also “having a hard time raising capital in international capital markets,” he said.

But Mr. Glaser acknowledged the current sanctions do not appear to have impacted Russia’s strategic calculus with regard to Ukraine. “It’s clear to all of us that as a broad strategic matter, their strategy remains the same,” he said.

The concession seemed only to frustrate Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee, who argued the administration should do more to support the pro-Western government in Ukraine and deter Russian attempts to undermine it.

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