U.S. lawmakers of both parties say Russia must pay a price for events in Ukraine, but that price can only be exacted with Europe’s full and vigorous cooperation. Members of Congress are closely monitoring this week’s meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
The downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet over eastern Ukraine has elicited perhaps the fiercest rhetoric towards Russia heard on Capitol Hill since the Cold War. On the Senate floor, Republican Dan Coats said Russian President Vladimir Putin is driven by “pathological insecurities” and “imperial ambitions” - and must be forced to halt intervention in Ukraine.
“I suggest we do whatever is necessary to bring Russia’s economy to its knees," he said. "We need to see that [Russian] stock market plummet. We need to see confidence and support for anything Russia makes or exports denied.”
But for further sanctions to be effective, the United States and its European allies must present a unified front, according to Democratic Senator Chris Murphy.
“Brussels has the ability to send an unequivocal message to Russia this week that there are consequences for their continued provocation in eastern Ukraine, which has now led to the death of hundreds of Europeans," he said. "Putin will blink if he sees there are real consequences for his economy. It is difficult for the United States to deliver consequences alone without Europe.”
Earlier in the day, the EU announced a tightening of targeted sanctions against Russia, with the possibility of further measures later in the week.
Washington and Brussels need to do more to target Russia’s economic lifeline: its energy sector, among others, according to the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Robert Menendez.
“That price should be exacted by the Europeans and the United States by having significant sectoral sanctions," he said. "I believed the West needed to be more vigorous before the Malaysian flight was shot down, and I certainly believe that so much more now.”
But many U.S. lawmakers question EU nations’ pain threshold when it comes to sanctions that could harm their own economies. Republican Senator John McCain says, so long as Europe depends on Russia for energy, EU sanctions will be weak.
“The Europeans are not going to do anything. If anybody believes that [European sanctions will be firm], I have some beachfront property for them in Arizona,” he said.
Arizona, McCain’s home state, is landlocked.
As for possible U.S. actions, Senator Murphy said President Barack Obama has ample authority to ratchet up sanctions further against Russia.