Dem Chairmen to Obama: Don't Wait for Europe to Get Tough on Russia as National Security is at Stake

A trio of Senate Democratic chairmen channeled their "outrage over the wanton destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17" today to directly ask President Obama to consider designating the Donetsk People's Republic a foreign terrorist organization.

Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked Obama to impose broad sanctions on Russia's defense sector as well as energy and finance industries.

"Evidence compiled since the crash, along with efforts to hide evidence and block international investigators, indicates the culpability of Russia and the separatist militants it supports in Ukraine. The attack on the Malaysia Airlines jet follows the downing of a Ukrainian AN-26 transport plane three days earlier, as well as the shooting down of a Ukrainian SU-25 attack jet and the downing of several Ukrainian government helicopters –  the Donetsk People’s Republic has claimed responsibility for each of these acts," the senators wrote.

They noted how the separatists have controlled the crash site with many bodies uncollected after six days, tampered with evidence and scooped up the flight recorders before OSCE investigators could get their hands on them.

"President Putin may have publicly stated that all sides should allow an investigation into the downed airliner, but Russia’s actions belie his words," the chairmen wrote. "These contemptible actions cannot go unanswered.  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."

The Russian arms giant that has been the target of so much consternation in Congress since President Obama lifted its sanctions in 2010 recently marketed to Malaysia the Buk missile system believed to have taken down the Malaysia Airlines jet.

Lawmakers have been trying to block U.S. funds from lining the pockets of Rosoboronexport — Russia’s state-owned arms behemoth that has raked in more than $1 billion in Defense Department contracts since 2011. President George W. Bush had placed a ban on doing business with the firm in 2008.

"We further urge you to explore the possibility of designating the Donetsk People’s Republic as a foreign terrorist organization. Increasing evidence of their human rights violations in Eastern Ukraine – including abductions and torture – demonstrates that their actions have threatened the lives of innocent Ukrainians, not to mention those unfortunate innocents merely traveling in civilian airspace over Ukraine," the senators wrote.

"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."