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Lawmakers praise sanctions, say Obama must go further to curb Russian aggression

Several members of Congress voiced support for sanctions against Russian leaders announced by President Obama earlier today, but urged him to go further to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from taking further steps to annex Crimea and take the region from Ukraine.

The sanctions, announced Monday morning, freeze the assets of seven Russian officials and four of their allies in Ukraine's Crimea region. The action by the Obama administration was praised by several members of Congress, while others blasted the sanctions for not going far enough.  "The crisis in Ukraine calls for a far more significant response from the United States," declared Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), in a lengthy statement released Monday afternoon. "Today's Executive Order could be an important part of that response, but sanctioning only seven Russian officials is wholly inadequate at this stage."

Without stronger U.S. and Western reaction, McCain said, “we run the risk of signaling to Putin that he can be even more expansive in furthering his old imperial ambitions, not only in Ukraine, but also in Central and Eastern Europe, the Baltic countries and parts of Central Asia.” McCain urged the Obama administration to “rush the modest military assistance to the Ukrainian government that its leaders have requested.”

Sen. Ted. Cruz (R-Tex.) urged Obama to install anti-ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe. “Appeasement hasn’t worked,” he told The Washington Post. He said an expanded U.S. military presence in Poland and the Czech Republic, similar to a missile-defense plan proposed by President George W. Bush and scrapped by the Obama administration in 2009, would provide a counterbalance to Putin’s regional power.

And it wasn't just congressional Republicans urging the Obama administration to take a stronger stance; several Democrats also signaled that they would support a more heavy-handed response.

“I support the sanctions announced today, and I strongly urge the President to go further and consider a broader range of consequences,” Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), an Army combat veteran and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “ If Russia is allowed to continue its aggressive push for control in Ukraine, there will be long-term, serious, and costly security risks for the United States and Europe. Russia must face serious consequences for its actions; the U.S. must consider options that truly isolate Russia economically and diplomatically—not just sanction a handful of oligarchs—and send a message of unity and strength from the international community."

Still other members of the Senate and House said that Obama's choice to impose limited sanctions afford the administration more leverage and flexibility to deal with the still-fluid situation moving forward.

"[The sanctions] make it clear that we're serious about moving forward on sanctions, but they give him room to make a different decision before he officially annexes Crimea," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview on CNN.

Murphy, who was part of the delegation that returned on Sunday from a trip to Ukraine, said that if Putin's aggression continues, the United States will hand down further sanctions.

"If he continues to move in this direction, if he goes any further than Crimea, if he does move forward with annexation, this is just the beginning of sanctions, not the end." Murphy said.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, praised the sanctions.

"I am glad that President Obama imposed additional sanctions on Russia earlier today," Engel said in a statement. "Next, Congress will expedite its work on legislation to support Ukraine and impose penalties on Russia.”

On Monday, the day after Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine, President Obama announced expanded sanctions on Russian officials in the White House briefing room. (The Associated Press)
Wesley Lowery is a national reporter covering law enforcement and justice for the Washington Post. He previously covered Congress and national politics.



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