By Peter Schroeder - 03/16/14 09:53 AM EDT
Top members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Sunday that the United States needed to show strength and long-term resolve in pushing back against Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the head of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that without a united global response, Russian President Vladimir Putin would push as far as he could to amass power.
“Putin only understands strength,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Menendez said the U.S. is prepared to enact “very robust sanctions” against Russia if it agrees to annex Crimea, a Russian-speaking section of Ukraine that is expected to vote in a Sunday referendum to secede from Ukraine. U.S. officials, including President Obama, have already called the vote illegitimate, and the senators said Russia would face consequences if they annexed the region.
“If they move towards that goal, then I think ultimately the sanctions need to be enforced along with our European allies,” said Menendez.
Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the top Republican on the committee, agreed with Menendez that tough sanctions should be immediately forthcoming if Russia looks to make inroads into Ukraine.
But at the same time, he criticized the Obama administration for creating “an air of permissiveness” that enabled such aggression.
“We have to show long-term commitment to this,” he said. “Without that, Putin will continue to do this…he will move into other places unless we show long-term resolve.”
Corker was critical of comments Secretary of State John Kerry made after a lengthy meeting with Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Friday. The last-minute diplomatic talks failed to yield a resolution.
Afterward, Kerry said Russia should not interpret anything from the U.S. as a threat, or to be taken personally by Putin.
“I think the comment that Sec. Kerry made was not helpful, and it shows a wishy-washiness,” Corker said.