Obama pressured to boost Russia sanctions

 

Senators on both sides of the aisle are calling for the Obama administration to beef up its sanctions regime against Russia over the country's meddling in Ukraine.

Current efforts to target individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin aren’t being effective, they say. Instead, the U.S. needs to target entire sectors of the Russian economy to get Russia to move troops away from the Ukrainian border.

“I think we need to have sector sanctions in place,” Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

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“I think we need to move those troops away from the border, change the behavior, and I’m very concerned that, as we’ve seen with this administration on so many tough issues, their policies are always late, after the point in time when we could’ve made a difference in the outcome. I’m very concerned.”

Specifically, Corker pointed to Russian banks and the natural gas giant Gazprom as targets that “would send shocks into the economy.”

He compared the Obama administration’s response to the Ukraine crisis to its reaction in the early days of violence in Syria.

“I think there’s concern on both sides of the aisle that the administration is acting with such cautiousness, as they did in Syria where we ended up in a situation that is one of the biggest humanitarian crises we’ve seen in a long, long time, by being so cautious, by being so unwilling to confront someone who only responds to action, not words,” he said.

In Ukraine last week, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) echoed the call for sector-specific sanctions on Russia, as well as lethal aide to Ukraine, a move the Obama administration has, so far, ruled out.

“We should use this authority to sanction Russian banks in addition to the one that we have already sanctioned, and to take on Russia’s manipulation of energy prices and supplies, which it uses to coerce not only Ukraine, but also many of its neighbors,” Levin said.

As soon as Monday, the White House and other countries in the Group of 7 will lay our new sanctions targeting “cronies” in the Russian government.

However, the administration has “reserved the most severe sectoral sanctions for a further escalation by Russia, such as moving its troops across the border into Ukraine,” according to Ben Rhodes, deputy national adviser for strategic communications.

The administration asserts that the current sanctions are undermining Putin’s compact with his people, and President Obama has said the idea that moving forward with new sanctions alone would be the best way to apply pressure on Putin “is factually wrong."

“We’re going to be in a stronger position to deter Mr. Putin when he sees that the world is unified, and the United States and Europe is unified, rather than this is just a U.S.-Russian conflict,” he said at a press conference in Malaysia on Sunday.