Will Obama Heed Call Among Dems for 'Stronger, Stiffer Sanctions' Slapped Quickly on Putin?
WASHINGTON -- A notable word was missing from President Obama's brief statement on Ukraine on the South Lawn of the White House Monday morning: sanctions.
He chided Russian President Vladimir Putin to do the right thing and assist in the investigation of the shootdown of MH17, and subtly warned that "the costs for Russia’s behavior will only continue to increase" if it does not stop backing the separatists believed to have fired the missile that struck the passenger jet.
Obama's week is filled with fundraising -- a Tuesday DNC event in Seattle, a Wednesday DCCC event in San Francisco and a Thursday DNC fundraiser in Los Angeles -- but even members of his own party are filling the queue with questions about what punishment waits in store for Putin.
Especially if the investigation into the Malaysia Airlines takedown reveals that Russia was more instrumental in killing 298 passengers and crew than just supplying the Buk surface-to-air missile system to rebels.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a critic of the sanctions rollback in Iran nuclear negotiations, acknowledged on Fox News Sunday that Obama has "a tough job."
"But I'll simply say before the shootdown, I was an advocate of further-reaching sanctions to stop Russia's aggression and let Putin know the consequences of continuing that form of aggression," Menendez said. "And, clearly, President Putin created the set of circumstances and has supplied the recourses and armament to rebels, in which this tragedy could take place."
"So, for me, I think that the West, including the United States, has to have a far more significant response than we've seen to date."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), one of the handful of senators who has long been critical of the Obama administration's continued defense contracts with Russian arms giant Rosoboronexport, said in a Sunday afternoon statement that "stronger, stiffer sanctions must be applied quickly and dramatically against Russia in the wake of its aiding and abetting this massacre."
"President Putin must be compelled to pay and apologize -- pay the victims' families through a compensation fund, and apologize to them and the world for Russia's role in this horrific act of terrorism," Blumenthal said. "Clear and compelling evidence points to Putin and as effectively the pernicious perpetrator of this horrific air terrorist tragedy. He armed, encouraged and incited his Russian so-called rebel agents in Ukraine. He is supporting coverup and obstruction of a legitimate investigation."
"…Putin and those responsible for this atrocity must be held accountable."
Furthermore, the senator said, Obama "should be aggressively rallying European allies -- sending emissaries to every capital -- to join in energy and financial sanctions."
"Only joint sanctions involving the Europeans will hit the Russians where they live… The world community must take this horrific tragedy and a rallying cry for action -- Putin's Lockerbie -- and join to impose accountability."
Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who was targeted by Russian travel sanctions for his part in a House amendment intended to block the Rosoboronexport contracts, told CNN that Europe needs to have a strong response to the attack, but the strong supporter of the White House also said the administration needs a response strategy.
"I mean, the military commander in the Eastern Ukraine region has been a colonel in GRU, the Russian secret police organization. Clearly this is controlled by Russia. These militants wouldn't do this unless they had the blessing and operational support from the Russians. So we need to place this firmly on Putin's desk and demand that Putin get out of Ukraine so this doesn't happen again. If he doesn't get out, then this kind of thing is going to happen again. It's intolerable and we ought to say that and take appropriate action -- which ought to be stronger than what we've seen to date," Moran said.
"Clearly, Russia was directing this -- and this alleged conversation with this Egor Strelkof, the commander in the Russian secret police, saying we hit a military plane, which turned out to be Malaysian Airlines, well, I think you can connect the dots, which leads to the Russian government in Moscow."
And Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Obama needs to show strength as the leader of the free world.
"I think the world would very much respect his increased attention on this matter," Feinstein told CNN today. "And I think there ought to be increased attention.”