Sanctions just a 'slap on the wrist,' say critics

Republican lawmakers on Monday blasted President Obama’s new round of U.S. sanctions against Russia as a weak and ineffectual response to Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine.

They said the sanctions, which target seven individuals and 17 companies linked to Putin, amount to little more than a “slap on the wrist.”

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“The administration’s tepid, incremental sanctions are insufficient given Russia’s continued occupation of Crimea and ongoing actions to fuel unrest in eastern Ukraine,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said in a joint statement with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)

The new economic sanctions, which Obama announced on Monday during a press conference in the Philippines, target the assets and trade relations of 17 companies that are owned or controlled by allies of Putin. 

But the sanctions stop short of targeting entire sectors of the Russian economy.

U.S. allies in Europe have more reluctant to impose broad financial penalties because they fear disrupting the flow of natural gas to their countries or upsetting the Russian oligarchs who live and spend freely in European banking capitals.

"I think our president is taking a cautious approach warranted because our European allies are the — are trade partners with Russia, they depend on Russia's energy. And so we have be careful because sanctions against Russia also have the good probability of hurting our allies," said Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), who recently returned from a visit with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to Ukraine, on MSNBC.

The administration on Monday suggested broader sanctions would be on the table if Russia encroaches further onto Ukrainian territory.

A U.S. official said that the administration is "confident the Europeans are with us" in imposing sectoral sanctions, should, for example, "we see Russian troops cross that border."

But lawmakers say the unrest that Putin has been stoking in Ukraine already warrant a more robust U.S. response.

“While I am encouraged that President Obama has announced more sanctions, I continue to be concerned that the administration’s actions are too little, too late to effectively deter Putin,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) in a statement. 

Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, called the new sanctions "meaningless." 

"The events of recent weeks are entirely predictable from a foreign policy where we draw red lines and then we don't keep our commitments," Messer said Monday on Bloomberg TV, referring to Obama’s Syria policy.

The individuals targeted by the sanctions "are the super rich that will find a way around it," Messer said. Instead, the U.S. should sanction Russia's banking and natural gas sectors, he said.

"I recognize the political dynamic that the president faces in the region with our allies there in Europe. But the problem is that Vladimir Putin is not the type of leader that responds to symbolism. He just kind of shrugs it off," Messer said.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a House Intelligence Committee member who recently visited Ukraine, said the new sanctions were "an important step," but that additional sanctions targeting sectors of Russia's economy were likely to be necessary.

"Regrettably, it will likely be necessary to go further and sanction whole sectors of the Russian economy — their banking, mining, energy and arms industries among others," he said in a statement.

Republican lawmakers called for the administration to increase U.S. natural gas exports to help European economies dependent on Russian exports. 

"America needs to declare a man on the moon moment on natural gas, that we are going to seek to increase our production and increase our exports over time," Messer said. 

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, echoed that sentiment.

"If we went after mining, if we went after financial services, energy, if the United States were to announce a major program to ship gas into Ukraine and break the Russian monopoly in eastern Europe, these types of steps would, I think, have an impact," Royce said on MSNBC Monday.

"Right now, I'm not certain that we've got an approach that is really sending the message to Moscow that we're serious about dislodging their ability to have a gas monopoly over Eastern Europe," he said.

Messer said if Russian forces move into Ukraine, the U.S. should also support arming Ukraine forces with anti-tank equipment and anti-missile equipment.

"That's not going to put the Ukraine in the position where they could stand up to a full onslaught from Russia, but it could help them in dealing with minor skirmishes and escalate what the real-world consequences are for Russia," Messer said.

The president and White House officials have rejected the idea of providing lethal aid to Ukraine forces. 

"Do people actually think that somehow us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could potentially deter the Russian army?" President Obama said from Manila on Monday. "Or are we more likely to deter them by applying the sort of international pressure, diplomatic pressure and economic pressure that we're applying?"

A senior administration official on Monday say there’s no scenario where the Ukrainian military can be brought to “parity with the Russian military.”

"This is not the type of action that we believe have the most significant deterrent on Russia's calculus. We have a far greater ability to affect Russia and impose a cost on Russia by imposing sanctions, rather than by that type of provision of assistance," the official said. 

— This story was updated at 3 p.m.