Corker urges Obama to punish Russia

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Drama surrounding Shulkin — what is the future of VA health care? Blackburn pushes back on potential Corker bid: 'I'm going to win' MORE (R-Tenn.) called on President Obama Saturday to impose tougher sanctions on Russia in response to its shipment of tanks and rocket launchers to separatists in Ukraine.

“With Russian tanks having crossed into Ukraine, the president must impose the tough sanctions he promised as the situation on the ground has clearly escalated,” said Corker, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“None of the minor actions that have been taken so far have changed Putin’s calculus, so a failure to respond vigorously now will have disastrous consequences, not only for Ukraine, but all neighboring countries who face similar threats from Russia,” he added. 

The State Department confirmed Friday that Russia sent T-64 tanks and BM-21 multiple rocket launchers to aid pro-Russian fighters battling against Ukrainian government forces.

Separatists shot down a Ukrainian army transport plane on Saturday, killing 49 soldiers.

Corker has introduced legislation that would place immediate new sanctions on Russian officials involved in the occupation of Crimea as well as on Russian banks and corporations linked to efforts to foment rebellion in East Ukraine.

Those penalties would hit four Key Russian banks, Sberbank, VTB Bank, VEB Bank, Gazprombank, as well as the energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft.

Under Corker’s bill, the United States would ratchet up sanctions further by cutting senior Russian officials and their companies from the world’s financial system if Russian forces cross into Ukrainian territory or annex other parts of Ukraine.

Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday called Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk to express his condolences for the soldiers who died in the downed transport plane.

He expressed “strong concern” about the flow of heavy weaponry and militants across the Russian-Ukrainian border and assured the prime minister that the United States is committed to helping Ukraine defend its border, according to a senior State Department official. 

Kerry also shared his concerns with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the flow of arms and the destruction of the transport plane.

He urged Lavrov to clarify Russia’s commitment to de-escalating the conflict and work for a ceasefire, according to the official.