Key Senate Dems to Obama: Broaden Russian sanctions

Three Senate committee chairmen are urging President Obama to impose broad sanctions against Russia’s defense, energy and financial firms in response to Russia’s alleged involvement in the downing of Flight MH17 last week.

In a letter Tuesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Obama to consider penalizing Russia for “its material support” of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. [READ SENATORS' LETTER TO OBAMA.]

“These contemptible actions cannot go unanswered,” they wrote. “We strongly urge you to aggressively exercise your authorities under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and other relevant statutes to impose immediate broad sanctions against Russia’s defense sector, including state-owned Rosboronexport, in order to prevent Russia from providing weaponry, equipment, or assistance and training to separatists in Ukraine.”

“We also urge you to give additional consideration to imposing broader sanctions on Russia’s energy and financial industries, as well as other sectors of the Russian economy as appropriate,” the three senators added. 

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The United States, they suggested, shouldn’t wait for Europe to impose sanctions.

“We understand and strongly support your efforts to coordinate the imposition of sanctions with our key European allies in order to ensure their maximum intended effect, and we encourage further cooperation in pursuit of this goal. However, the United States must not limit its own national security strategy when swift action will help fulfill our strategic objectives, support an independent Ukraine, and counter malignant Russian interference.”

European Union foreign ministers, however, reportedly announced before the letter’s release Tuesday that the EU would sanction more Russian individuals and groups and would announce them specifically by Thursday. 

Evidence collected since last Thursday’s crash, the senators said, “indicates the culpability of Russia and the separatist militants it supports in Ukraine.”

“Russia has incited, supported, and recruited bands of irregular soldiers within and outside of Ukraine who have attacked Ukrainian security forces,” the letter said.

The senators asked Obama to also explore the possibility of designating the pro-Russian rebels' self-proclaimed area in eastern Ukraine, the Donetsk People’s Republic, as a foreign terrorist organization.

On Monday, other lawmakers called on the Obama administration to unveil tougher sanctions targeting Russia. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said sanctions should hit Russian President Vladimir Putin personally.

The downing of the passenger jet last week came just a day after the administration announced its last round of sanctions against Russia. Those sanctions ban people in the U.S. from providing new financing to two major Russian banks — GazpromBank and Vneshconom Bank — and two energy firms — Novatek and Rosneft Oil Company.