Menendez: Putin 'only understands strength'

Pushing for sanctions, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin "only understands strength."

Russia could continue its march deeper into Ukraine unless forced to stop, Menendez said, citing the 2008 invasion into Georgia.

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“The Ukrainians have given no real challenge to him, as with Georgia,” he said on MSNBC. “But [Putin] used the same pretext and ended up with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And I can see that playing out here again unless the West has a very decisive set of actions.”

Menendez said the United States must follow through on its promises regarding the Crimean peninsula.

“At the end of the day, he's looking to see what the world is going to respond,” Menendez said. “President Putin only understands strength. And it is a moment in which we must mean what we say and act upon what we say as what we actually mean.”

In a news conference earlier in the day, Putin said sanctions would be counterproductive. According to reports, he said the use of Russian force in Ukraine is premature but that the country had the right to use all options to defend Russians and Russian-speaking people.

President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry earlier in the day said Russia runs the risk of further isolation but still has time to de-escalate the situation.

The Foreign Relations Committee is looking at a number of sanctions to impose on Russia amid the turmoil, Menendez announced Monday night. That is on top of the $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine that the administration said it is working on to stabilize the country.

Menendez cited asset and visa freezes on Russian authorities as potential measures. Removal from the Group of Eight will should also be considered, he said.

If Russia continues troop movements, Menendez said stopping military sales would also be considered.

“I think if Russia continues down this path and goes even more aggressively into Ukraine, stopping the sales, military sales and dual-use sales, have to be on the table,” he said. “I think these are the only actions that Putin will understand.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday any action by the United States should be taken in conjunction with its allies, when responding to a question about sanctions.