Lawmakers dial Europe to make a case for sanctions on Russia

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Members of Congress are leaning on Europe to back meaningful sanctions on Russia, making personal phone calls to convince allies that the Kremlin should be punished for its incursion into Ukraine.

The members are worried about signs that Great Britain and Germany oppose deep sanctions, and say they won’t work without cross-Atlantic unity.

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“The president is very right to keep the focus on Europe, because we cannot influence Moscow on our own,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told The Hill on Tuesday as he ran to make phone calls with German lawmakers.“It’s unfortunate the Europeans are not taking a stronger stand on this,” said Murphy, the chairman of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Europe.

He said the countries of Eastern Europe will be watching closely, wondering who is next.

“If Russia gets away with this, in the same way they feel they got away with the Georgia incursion [in 2008], I don’t know why other countries that are former client states of Russia would feel that they’re safe,” he said.

Congress is working on sanctions and economic aid for Ukraine in tandem with the Obama administration, and key lawmakers are having conversations with European parliamentarians to move them along.

“We are having conversations with our counterparts in Europe to also make sure that, to the extent we can, make sure we are on the same page with them, because obviously that is much more effective,” Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN.

He said the Senate could mark up legislation as early as next Tuesday.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) also urged a “united front.”

“We have got to work and lead with 

Europe in order to really create a united front, because if this thing gets further out of hand ... you can end up with a civil insurrection across the Ukraine,” he told CNN on Tuesday.

President Obama is also hitting the phones.

“I’ll be making additional calls today to some of our key foreign partners,” Obama said Tuesday, “and I suspect I’ll be doing that all week and through the weekend.”

Tension between the United States and Europe over Russia is nothing new.

The U.S. was critical of European leaders for failing to convince ousted President Viktor Yanukovych to turn westward instead of siding with Russia after protests broke out over his decision to abandon a trade pact with the European Union late last year.

In a leaked phone call with the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, the State Department’s top Europe official, Victoria Nuland, expressed that growing sense of frustration with her unguarded “F--k the EU” remarks.

European economic engine Germany, which relies on Russia for three-quarters of its oil and gas imports, has balked at proposals to hammer Russia with sanctions. And Great Britain is floating a proposal that wouldn’t close off London’s financial center to Russian oligarchs’ billions, according to government documents photographed in Downing Street, the site of the prime minister’s office.

Some experts doubt Europe will join the effort.

“It is unlikely that the U.S. will get broad-based European support for the sanctions,” said Daniel Drezner, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The U.K. is going to be reluctant to impose financial sanctions because there’s a lot of Russian money flowing through London, and it looks like in the case of Germany, [Chancellor Angela] Merkel isn’t so much against sanctions in principle, but against sanctions right now.”

While Drezner argued that sanctions won’t get Russia out of Crimea, some argue the discussion creates pressure on the Kremlin to rethink its aggressive stance.

“I don’t believe any U.S. sanctions would be unilateral, because I don’t really think we’ll impose them unless Russia does something even more egregious, in which case the Europeans will likely be with us,” said Michael O’Hanlon, the director of research for Brookings Institution’s foreign policy program. “There is no harm, however, in beginning the conversation and debate about whether to apply them, because that is a necessary first step, which sends a warning shot to the Kremlin.”

The Obama administration remains confident it can get Europe on board.

“I come here today at the instruction of President Obama to make it absolutely clear the United States of America would prefer to see this de-escalate,” Secretary of State John Kerry said after meeting with Ukraine’s new interim government in Kiev. “But if Russia does not choose to de-escalate, if it is not willing to work directly with the government of Ukraine as we hope they will be, then our partners will have absolutely no choice but to join us and continue to expand upon steps we have taken in recent days in order to isolate Russia politically, diplomatically and economically.”

Others have all but given up on Europe.

“I think it’s very unlikely” that Europe will join a sanctions push, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told The Hill. “It’s a sad state of affairs.”

Justin Sink and Rebecca Shabad contributed.

 

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