By Rebecca Shabad - 03/17/14 11:50 AM EDT
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Monday criticized President Obama for not offering military assistance to Ukraine.
Obama on Monday announced sanctions against 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials following Sunday's disputed referendum in Crimea, but McCain said the president should have gone further by putting military assistance on the table.
On MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” McCain was asked if Ukrainians want U.S. military help.
“Oh, they want it very badly,” he said, adding that their military has been eroded in the last several years. “You could give them anti-air equipment, you could give them anti-tank. You could help up their training. One of the things I would do is send our military to Kiev and find out how we can best assist them.”
He continued to knock Obama’s strategy in the interview.
“The president’s response, I don’t how it could have been any weaker, besides doing nothing.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that the administration has not ruled out military assistance to Ukraine, but is "focused presently on providing the assistance that Ukraine needs most at this time, which is economic assistance."
"Right now we're focused on raising the costs on Russia for the actions that Russia has taken, making clear that there will be most costs and more isolation to Russia if they do not reverse course, and ensuring that steps are taken so that Ukraine is getting the economic assistance it needs," Carney said.
Pressed on McCain's assertion that Obama's response had been "timid," Carney said the Arizona lawmaker’s assessment of the president changes from day to day.
"I didn't see Senator McCain's comments. I have noted that they have fluctuated somewhat in terms of his evaluation of the president's performance every several days," Carney said. "The president's focused on making sure that we support the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people."
In his statement from the White House, Obama noted the U.S. is providing financial aid to Ukraine to help its economy. The administration announced a $1 billion aid package several weeks ago, which Congress has been working on to approve.
Obama has not, however, announced any military assistance for Ukraine.
McCain returned from Ukraine with a group of his Senate colleagues over the weekend.
In an op-ed published Saturday in The New York Times, McCain accused Obama of making America look weak as Russia moves to annex Crimea.
He said in order to help Ukraine build stronger ties with Europe, the West must provide financial aid and other assistance. He did not spell out what the other assistance should entail.
“To seize that opportunity, Ukrainian leaders must unify the nation and commit to reform, and the West must provide significant financial and other assistance,” McCain wrote.
The U.S. and its allies announced further sanctions against Russia on Monday, the same day Crimea declared independence and initiated the process to join Russia.
Obama, along with other allies in the G-7 — Japan, Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and Canada — have made clear they don’t recognize the referendum, and have called it a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
McCain and other senators mocked the referendum on Twitter, suggesting Russia had tampered with votes.He said he lost a bet after exit polls on Sunday showed 95 percent of Crimea voted to secede. Final tallies on Monday indicated that number went up to nearly 97 percent.
I lost the bet. A shameless 95% in #Crimea "referendum" - just like the old days in the Soviet Union— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) March 16, 2014
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) compared Putin to other dictators who were known to have potentially rigged their own countries’ elections.
Hats off to Putin’s political machine garnering 97% of the vote -- not as good as Kim Jong-Un and Saddam Hussein though. #rigged— Lindsey Graham (@GrahamBlog) March 17, 2014
It’s hard to utter the words ‘Free and Fair’ regarding any election associated with Putin.— Lindsey Graham (@GrahamBlog) March 17, 2014
Justin Sink contributed.
This story was last updated at 2:05 p.m.