Sen. Menendez: 'Putin has miscalculated'

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) urged the United States to conduct an “urgent reexamination” of its policies toward Russia to prevent its latest actions from setting a precedent for other countries. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin is now embracing a pre-1991 Soviet Union mindset, Menendez said of the leader who signed a law Friday completing the annexation of Crimea.

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“In my view, Putin has miscalculated,” Menendez told the German Marshall Fund’s conference in Brussels, Belgium on Saturday. 

The New Jersey lawmaker, who was sanctioned by Putin this week, has been in Brussels meeting with both North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Eurooean Union leaders to discuss the Ukraine-Russia crisis. 

The United States and EU should consider economic sanctions “strong and significant enough” to force Putin to change Russia’s course of action, he said.

President Obama has already announced two stages of sanctions so far that target Russian and Ukrainian individuals as well as a major Russian bank. None of the sanctions, however, has seemed to deter any of Putin's actions. 

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If the West does not strengthen its policies, Menendez warns Russia’s actions could have a dangerous effect internationally. He suggested China could use it to pursue its territorial desires in the South China Sea, Iran could infuse it into nuclear negotiations and North Korea could point to it in its nuclear ambitions. 

“All of them will be looking at what we in the West do – or do not do – in making a decision about Russia’s brazen move into Ukraine,” Menendez said. “They will be watching to see how far they can go...They will be asking: What can I get away with?”

Although Russia has said it wouldn’t move any further to acquire other parts of eastern Ukraine, the United States is worried that could still be a possibility. 

In a separate session at the conference, Russian Ambassador to NATO Alexander Grushko defended Russia’s latest actions to annex Crimea.

“We don’t need permission from NATO and EU to act in line with international law,” said Grushko, adding that the Crimean referendum last weekend was “legitimate” and “NATO should acknowledge that fact.” 

“If NATO wants to get back to its raison d'etre of cold war times, it is not our choice. We have a global agenda,” he said.