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US Lawmakers say Obama Will Push for More Russia Sanctions

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (r) shakes hands with U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte in Kyiv, March 23, 2014.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (r) shakes hands with U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte in Kyiv, March 23, 2014.

U.S. lawmakers visiting Kyiv have urged President Barack Obama to use bilateral meetings at a nuclear security summit at The Hague to push for a stronger NATO presence in countries neighboring Ukraine and for greater economic sanctions on Russia.

During a visit to Kyiv, three U.S. lawmakers led by Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte said President Obama would use bilateral meetings this week at The Hague to secure agreement from European allies to ratchet up the Western response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The lawmakers praised President Obama for the financial sanctions and travel bans imposed last week on President Putin’s inner circle, including on a Russian bank used by the Moscow elite. But they urged that specific additional steps be taken to deter the Kremlin from further incursions into Ukraine.

“We can take further actions and I certainly would recommend that we take further actions of economic sanctions against the Russians including economic sanctions on their entire financial sector that will have a negative impact on the economy of Russia and that is not to harm the Russian people, but that is to send a message to Vladimir Putin," said Ayotte.

Ayotte and her colleagues, Democrat Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Democrat Congressman Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, expressed alarm at the build-up of Russian military forces across the border from eastern Ukraine. The U.S. lawmakers said time is of the essence to ensure Putin understands there will be a price to pay for any further incursions into Ukraine.

Obama is in Europe for a long-planned nuclear security summit in The Hague, but the meeting is fast becoming focused on the Ukraine crisis and the standoff between the West and Russia. Fifty-two world leaders are attending, but not Putin.

Ayotte acknowledged there will be resistance from some Western European leaders to imposing broad financial sanctions on Russia, singling out Britain.

“If you look at the history of sanctions in other contexts, it is often that the United States goes first and works with our partners to implement even a stronger sanction regime along with our partners to ensure we send the right message. Is it worth a little bit of economic pain for freedom? It is," she said.

According to Donnelly, the United States is likely to again consider a tactical missile defense shield in Central Europe and examine how Europe can become less dependent on Russian gas supplies.

“We will provide military help. I expect there will be more forces coming into the area. I expect that we will revisit the missile shield question as well. I expect the question of energy will be very much on the table," said Donnelly.

The lawmakers say Ukraine needs military aid urgently, including small arms and communications equipment, as well as technical assistance, to make up for the years of neglect of the Ukraine armed forces.