Obama administration threatens sanctions against Ukraine

The Obama administration upped its rhetoric against Ukraine on Wednesday, warning of possible sanctions if the government continues its crackdown on protesters.

“All policy options, including sanctions, are on the table, in our view, but obviously that still is being evaluated,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. “I'm not going to get into specifics of that. We're considering policy options. There obviously hasn't been a decision made. Sanctions are included, but I'm not going to outline more specifics.”

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Psaki called on the Ukrainian government to abide by protesters' calls for the country to sign a trade deal with the European Union instead of turning toward Russia. The State Department's top Europe official, Victoria Nuland, has visited the country twice in the past few days to argue that case. Vice President Biden also called Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to express his “deep concern.”

The push to get tougher on Ukraine, however, could run into resistance in an unlikely place — Congress.

While the Senate unanimously passed a resolution last month calling on Yanukovych's government to release former prime minister and political rival Yulia Tymoshenko, similar legislation has been stuck in the House Foreign Affairs Committee all year. That's because its subpanel on Europe is chaired by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin's tough handling of the Islamist insurgency in the Caucasus.

“The people of the Ukraine elected the government that's now under siege,” Rohrabacher told The Hill. “And that counts for something.”

Rohrabacher said police action against nonviolent protesters should always raise concerns but added that he didn't see “mass beatings” or “armored cars plowing their way through demonstrators.”

He said he wanted to hold a hearing on the issue when Congress returns next year.

“In Ukrainian affairs, I'm about as neutral as you can get,” he said. “My gut does not tell me that anybody who wants to keep Ukraine tied economically and politically with Russia is automatically bad, and the other group is not automatically good — or vice-versa.”

“I really am open-minded about what's going on there,” he said. “Usually I have my mind made up on all the important things — I don't in this case.”

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