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Congress pushes for Russia sanctions, Ukrainian aid

11:11 PM, Mar 1, 2014   |    comments
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Video: Ukraine: 'Russia is violating our sovereignty'

An unidentified man guards the entrance to a local government building in Simferopol, Ukraine, on March 1, 2014.

 


 


WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - Members of Congress called for immediate sanctions against Russia and an emergency aid package for Ukraine as the crisis in eastern Europe escalated Saturday.

The day after President Obama said Russia would face "costs" for intervening in Ukraine, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the president needs to articulate what those costs are - and immediately impose them.

"None of us should be under any illusion about what President Putin is capable of doing in Ukraine," McCain said in a statement. "Every moment that the United States and our allies fail to respond sends the signal to President Putin that he can be even more ambitious and aggressive in his military intervention in Ukraine."

In a 90-minute phone call with Putin Saturday, Obama warned that Russia faces "greater political and economic isolation," and he threatened to boycott the upcoming G-8 talks in Sochi.

Obama's call came after the upper house of the Russian parliament authorized the use of troops in Ukraine on Saturday, ramping up the rhetoric by calling on President Vladimir Putin to withdraw Russia's ambassador to the United States.

STORY: U.N. meets on Russia-Ukraine conflict

Members of Congress, most of whom had left Washington for the weekend, responded in kind but stopped short of advocating any direct military action.

One of the strongest calls for action came from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. He urged Obama to dispatch Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to Ukraine's capital in a show of solidarity, ban Russian officials from travelling to the United States, convene an emergency meeting of NATO, and allow the Republic of Georgia into the Atlantic alliance.

Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the United States and its European allies should place international observers in Ukraine. Those observers would make it more difficult for Russia to claim Ukrainian provocation, "and thereby help avoid a conflict that nobody should want."

The ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, called for immediate sanctions against Russia. "Vladimir Putin is seizing a neighboring territory - again - so President Obama must lead a meaningful, unified response," Corker said in a statement.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., advocated "a robust international economic assistance package" - including loan guarantees - for Ukraine. Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, said the Russian parliament's moves "are acts of aggression that violate Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., another member of the committee, went further. Not only should the United States recall its ambassador to Russia, he said, but it should revoke visas and freeze assets of anyone associated with the Putin regime, supply military assistance to Ukraine and boot Russia from the G-8 group of industrialized nations.

Cotton's statement also revealed a bit of domestic politics, blaming "President Obama's trembling inaction" for the crisis. Cotton, who's running for a Senate seat, compared Russian aggression in Crimea to the German annexation of Austria in 1938 and suggested that U.S. officials were downplaying the seriousness of the situation.

Democrats, however, said Putin alone was responsible for the crisis. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., tweeted, "Situation in Ukraine is now very grave. Putin is playing (with) fire in the Crimea."

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