Senators losing patience with Obama on Ukraine

Senators losing patience with Obama on Ukraine
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Senators from both parties are increasingly frustrated with President Obama’s nearly yearlong refusal to provide arms to the Ukrainian military.

On Monday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerRepublicans, ideology, and demise of the state and local tax deduction Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force MORE (R-Tenn.) and Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDems block Cruz's Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill Overnight Defense & National Security — Differences remain between NATO, Russia Senate Democrats unveil bill sanctioning Russia over Ukraine MORE (D-N.J.) sent a strongly-worded letter to Obama asking for an update on plans for providing defensive lethal assistance to Ukraine. 

The report to Congress, which is required by law under the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, was due on Feb. 15.

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“Now is the time for the United States to provide Ukraine with the means to defend itself from continued Russian aggression. We should not be misled by Vladimir Putin's repeated efforts to exploit nominal ceasefire agreements," Corker and Menendez wrote.

The missive comes ahead of a Tuesday morning hearing by the Foreign Relations panel that will focus on the Obama administration’s policy toward Ukraine.

Both Republicans and Democrats are expected to grill officials from the Defense, State and Treasury departments about why the president refuses to give lethal weapons to Kiev’s forces in the fight against Russian-backed separatists.

Lawmakers in both chambers have repeatedly called on the White House to get tougher on the rebels since Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea last March.

The focus on the conflict was sharpened this month by the assassination of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, a former Russian deputy prime minister who was shot by an unknown assailant in Moscow. The Kremlin is suspected of having a hand in his death, either directly or indirectly.

Obama, along with European allies, has opted to level economic sanctions on Moscow instead of providing arms to Ukraine, out of concern that such a move would ratchet up Russian aggression toward its former satellite state.

Yet an increasing number of high-ranking administration officials have publicly stated that Obama should consider changing course.

“I think we should absolutely consider providing lethal aid,” Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told a panel of House members last week.

Also last week Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that arming Ukraine would “bolster their resolve.” 

In his confirmation hearing Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said he was “inclined” to provide weapons to Ukraine, and Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryBiden's second-ranking climate diplomat stepping down A presidential candidate pledge can right the wrongs of an infamous day Equilibrium/Sustainability — Dam failures cap a year of disasters MORE has reportedly told members of Congress in private discussions that he supports the idea.

Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyFormer Sen. Donnelly confirmed as Vatican ambassador Biden to have audience with pope, attend G20 summit Biden taps former Indiana Sen. Donnelly as ambassador to Vatican MORE (D-Ind.), who was part of a bipartisan push last month by the Senate Armed Services Committee to make the administration provide arms, said: "I wish we would move ahead with that."

"Everyone would like to follow up with what we had the press conference about," he told The Hill.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he was weighing "additional steps" on arming Ukraine's military.

"There are a number of steps I’m considering relating to the Armed Services Committee and I expect I’ll be announcing some ideas in the next 24 to 48 hours," he said.

Corker and Menendez urged the administration to act quickly.

"After countless broken promises by the Kremlin, it is clear that Moscow's aggression in Ukraine can only be stopped if Putin realizes that the United States and Europe are unequivocally committed to helping Kyiv impose this military cost on Russia," they said.