'With Urgency and Alarm' Based on New Info, Armed Services Committee Asks Obama to Act on Russia

Republican leaders at the House Armed Services Committee have urged President Obama to act quickly against Russian aggression and pledged to support any show of force by Washington.

Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and the seven subcommittee chairman -- Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), Randy Forbes (R-Va.), Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), Michael Turner (R-Ohio), Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), Rob Wittman (R-Va.), and Joe Heck (R-Nev.) -- sent Obama an open letter and a separate classified letter.

The unclassified letter said the chairmen wrote "with urgency and alarm, based on new information in the committee’s possession."

"We are gravely concerned about the aggressive posture of Russian forces along the eastern border of Ukraine, as well as reports that Moscow may be making threatening moves towards allies in the Baltics. We urge your administration, working with our NATO allies, to share available intelligence information with the government of Ukraine that would enable it to take prudent and timely measures to protect the very 'sovereignty and territorial integrity' that you have committed to maintain. We also believe it is imperative that the United States take precautionary steps to improve the posture and readiness of U.S. military forces in the region, and pursue additional measures to bolster the security of our eastern and central European allies and partners," the lawmakers wrote.

Those details to which they refer are in the classified letter. Reporters today from Ukraine indicated that the Russian border buildup now includes tanks and troops in Voronezh, 50 miles north of the Ukrainian border.

The Armed Services chairmen noted that the Obama administration has openly acknowledged the "tens of thousands of Russian troops massed near the eastern border of Ukraine conducting 'military exercises,' the presence of Russian Spetsnaz special forces in eastern Ukraine fomenting civil unrest and chaos, and the large footprint of Russian naval forces and coastal troops in the Baltics."

"There is deep apprehension that Moscow may invade eastern and southern Ukraine, pressing west to Transdniestria, and also seek land grabs in the Baltics," they added. "...Mr. President, you have stated that you 'are in close communication with the Ukrainian government.' We would expect this communication to immediately include any intelligence on Russian troop movements and possible attack scenarios into Ukraine, and to provide such information with sufficient time to allow the Ukrainian government to take prudent defense measures to protect its people, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. "

"We also believe it is crucial that you direct the Secretary of Defense to increase and enhance the alert posture and readiness of U.S. forces in Europe without delay, including maintaining forward-deployed U.S. quick reaction forces. A failure to take such deterrent actions in the face of continued Russian aggression will certainly risk the very diplomatic and peaceful outcome that we all desire. Inaction by the U.S. and NATO will only further embolden Russian military planners, making further escalation more – not less – likely."

The chairmen add "as we have learned in previous crises elsewhere, if U.S. forces are not positioned in advance to respond to foreseeable threats, the options for senior decision makers become severely limited."

"To that end, we further call on you to convene an emergency session of the North Atlantic Council, to be led by Secretary Hagel and Chairman Dempsey, and to request that our NATO allies also enhance their force readiness in the event that an Article V response is required," they wrote. "Mr. President, we still have opportunity to deter Russia aggression, but President Putin must see our commitment to Ukraine and to our European allies and partners.  He must visibly see our resolve, including our military resolve, and clearly understand the costs."

Separately from the letter, McKeon stressed that “Russia’s war on Ukraine has already started."

"It is time to stop speculating about possibility, and start dealing with reality," McKeon said. "Europe will unite behind American leadership. It’s time we demonstrate it. Continued inaction by the President in the face of Mr. Putin’s invasion will make further Russian aggression more – not less – likely. Any show of resolve from the White House will have my full support.”

At a press conference in Brussels today with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Obama said "there is still a way for Russia to work with Ukraine and the international community to deescalate the situation through diplomacy."

"That’s the only way that the issue will be resolved," Obama said. "If Russia continues on its current course, however, the isolation will deepen."