A group of Senate Republicans called on the Obama administration Wednesday to take more aggressive steps toward containing Russian President Vladimir Putin and preventing military aggression in Eastern Europe.
With frustration mounting in Washington over what the administration has described as Russian meddling in Ukraine, the senators proposed legislation that would call on President Obama to provide the Ukrainian military with “direct military assistance” — including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry — while paving the way for more sanctions against Moscow.
Specifically, the “Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014” would push the administration to bite down with sanctions against Russia’s state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom, weapons exporter Rosoboronexport and oil giant Rosneft.
The Obama administration already has leveled sanctions against a growing number of Russian officials and corporations over the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, and threatened to expand the sanctions if Moscow does not pull its military and intelligence officials from eastern Ukraine.
But White House officials responded tepidly the legislation being pushed by Senate Republicans.
Fitting with Mr. Obama’s own resistance in recent weeks to calls for directly arming the Ukrainian military, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday that “those who make those calls don’t explain what ultimate purpose that would do.”
Mr. Carney’s remarks came as Ukraine’s acting president was saying that police and security forces are “helpless” against pro-Russian gunmen, who seized more government building’s in the nation’s east Wednesday.
Gunmen in the mining city of Horlivka walked into the police station and mayor’s office without resistance, according to The Associated Press. Insurgents had taken control Wednesday of the customs service building in Donetsk — eastern Ukraine’s main city — as well as the city hall in Alchevsk, an industrial center roughly 50 miles from the Russian border.
The gradual takeover that Russian-backed forces appear to be engaged in serves as a backdrop for the policy changes being proposed by Republicans in Washington.
“Rather than react to events as they unfold, which has been the policy of this administration, we need to inflict more direct consequences on Russia prior to Vladimir Putin taking additional steps that will be very difficult to undo,” Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said in introducing the legislation.
The proposal takes a “three-prong approach to prevent the situation from becoming far worse,” said Mr. Corker, who was joined by 20 other Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and John McCain of Arizona, as the bill’s co-sponsors.
If Mr. Putin has not “substantially” withdrawn Russian military forces from the Ukrainian border or “halted its destabilizing activities” in Ukraine within seven days of the bill’s enactment, the United States must respond by imposing sanctions against Russia’s state-controlled energy- and weapons-exporting monopolies, along with their related banking interests, the legislation states.
The sanctions would specifically target Sberbank, VTB Bank, Vnesheconombank, Gazprombank, Gazprom, Novatek, Rosneft, and Rosoboronexport; along with their Russian-owned subsidiaries and senior Russian national executives, the bill states.