U.S. lawmakers stepped up calls Tuesday for sanctions against Russia, urging the Biden administration to act swiftly to penalize Russian President Vladimir Putin for recognizing the occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine as independent states.
Despite significant bipartisan unity for deterring Russian aggression in Ukraine, Democrats and Republicans have struggled to agree on how to sequence sanctions to discourage and penalize Putin for incursions into the independent eastern European nation.
But Putin’s televised national speech Monday characterizing Ukraine as historically part of Russia and “never a true nation” drew swift condemnation from top U.S. lawmakers.
“Vladimir Putin’s illegal recognition of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics is an act of unprovoked aggression and a brazen violation of international law,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said in a statement.
“This illegal recognition is an attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty. To be clear, if any additional Russian troops or proxy forces cross into Donbas, the Biden administration and our European allies must not hesitate in imposing crushing sanctions,” Menendez continued.
An estimated 150,000 Russian troops have massed at the border with Ukraine in recent weeks. Putin’s claim that the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk are no longer a part of Ukraine opens the door for so-called Russian “peacekeeping” troops to go into those areas. The U.S. and its allies say this mission is a false flag operation to allow further incursion into Ukraine.
Many Republicans have criticized the White House’s approach to the crisis, calling the Russian leader’s move an invasion and accusing the Biden administration of waiting until it is too late to deter Putin.
“Setting the trigger for meaningful sanctions to Russian tanks rolling across Ukraine’s border was a dangerous mistake,” Rep. Mike McCaul and Mike Rogers, the ranking Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs and House Armed Services Committees, said in a statement Monday. “Secretary Blinken committed to a “swift and firm response’ by the United States and its allies if Putin recognized Russian-backed separatist Republics in Donbas. Now that the Kremlin has done so, we must immediately impose real costs for this blatant act of aggression.”
The United States has already announced an executive order prohibiting new American investment and trade in those regions. The White House said additional “swift and severe” actions would follow Tuesday.
But some Republicans said these actions had come too late to be effective.
“Biden-Harris officials are to an enormous extent directly responsible for this crisis. He and his administration instead settled for an endlessly deferred and wholly uncredible strategy of responding to Putin's aggression after an invasion. They have pursued bizarre tactics like declassifying American intelligence and trying to shame Putin. That approach has failed,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz said Monday.
Congressional Democrats praised Biden for preparing for this moment and said it marked a turning point in triggering sanctions on the Kremlin.
"The time for taking action to impose significant costs on President Putin and the Kremlin starts now,” Senator Chris Coons, a top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement Monday.
“President Biden has ably led months of preparation for this moment with our allies in NATO and Europe, and I’m encouraged by clear condemnations of Putin’s actions as well as statements of unity from our partners and allies. We must swiftly join our NATO allies and partners in the European Union to impose forceful new sanctions on Russia,” Coons continued.
Both Menendez and Risch have introduced sanctions legislation in the U.S. Senate that would end Russian access to international banking transactions, provide hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine as well as cutting off funding for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are in recess this week and not set to be back in session until the end of the month.