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Senate Republicans press for tougher sanctions on Russia

File: Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Senate Republicans vented their displeasure with the Obama administration’s efforts to punish Russia over Ukraine Wednesday with a new bill to increase sanctions.

“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,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who headed 21 co-sponsors.

The Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014 would impose immediate new sanctions if Russia doesn’t withdraw from the Ukrainian region of Crimea, stop “destabilizing activities” in eastern Ukraine, and move most of the 40,000 troops it has along Ukraine’s border within seven days of passage.

In addition to Russian officials and business leaders, the sanctions would apply to major Russian companies, including energy behemoths Gazprom and Rosneft, and the state-run defense exporter Rosoboronexport, as well as a number of banks. The bill includes a presidential national security waiver.

Most of the bill’s co-sponsors, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are on record criticizing President Obama’s foreign policy from Russia to Syria to China as weak and ineffective.

The administration provided no initial reaction to the legislation. White House press secretary Jay Carney reiterated Wednesday that “if Russia continues to refuse to engage in an effort to further destabilize the situation in Ukraine, to de-escalate the tensions, there will be costs to that decision. They have already -- some have already been imposed. We have substantial authorities, under the executive order signed by the president, to increase those costs.”

Obama approved a third round of sanctions Monday, freezing the assets and imposing visa bans on an additional seven Russian individuals and 17 companies associated with them. Obama has authorized full-scale sanctions against entire Russian economic sectors, but the administration has held them in reserve while it waits to see if Russia decides to invade Ukraine.

The Republican bill also authorizes $100 million in direct military assistance to Ukraine, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and small arms, and increased U.S. military protection for NATO members in eastern Europe. The administration has said it believes economic and diplomatic pressure against Russia is more effective deterrence than providing weapons to Ukraine’s weak military forces.