Republicans pile on Obama for stand on Ukraine

Herald Washington BureauMarch 3, 2014 

Ukraine

Unidentified armed men patrol around a Ukraine's infantry base in Perevalne, Ukraine, Sunday, March 2, 2014. Hundreds of armed men in trucks and armored vehicles surrounded the Ukrainian military base Sunday in Crimea, blocking its soldiers from leaving. The outnumbered Ukrainians placed a tank at the base's gate, leaving the two sides in a tense standoff. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

DARKO VOJINOVIC — AP

WASHINGTON -- Republicans criticized President Barack Obama on Sunday as too cautious about Russian President Vladimir Putin's intentions in Ukraine.

They insisted Obama get tougher, and fast.

"I think Putin is playing chess, and I think we're playing marbles," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said on "Fox News Sunday."

"Our policy toward Russia under this administration deserves a heavy amount of criticism," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"Putin's on the wrong side of history. He's on the wrong side of the law. Make him pay

a price," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Beyond the rhetoric, many of the specific ideas mentioned by Republicans were also embraced by some Democrats.

Among them: Admit Georgia to NATO, and create a "democratic noose," as Graham put it, around Russia. Impose economic sanctions. Restart missile defense systems in the Czech Republic. Suspend Russia from the Group of 8.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday the U.S. is weighing possible economic sanctions or other punishments if Putin doesn't relent.

Kerry will travel to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev Tuesday to meet with government officials. Kerry has raised the possibility of issuing economic sanctions and visa bans, freezing Russian assets and levying trade and investment penalties.The United States now believes Russia has complete operational control of the Crimea peninsula, a pro-Russian area of Ukraine, with more than 6,000 forces in the region. The official said the United States is also watching for ethnic skirmishes in other areas of eastern Ukraine.

The hard line against Putin reflects the Republican effort to regain their political advantage on national security.

From roughly the late 1960s, when most Democrats soured on the Vietnam War, until support for the Iraq war began to ebb about a decade ago, Republicans were seen as the party more inclined to use or threaten military force.

Six Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including Rubio, joined six Democrats Friday in writing a letter to Obama pledging bipartisan cooperation in developing policy, and outlined specific steps.

"We are prepared to work with your Administration to reinforce your efforts by authorizing U.S. loan guarantees to Ukraine and increasing assistance to facilitate a peaceful transition of power," the senators wrote. "We also believe that the U.S. should make use of the tools at its disposal," the letter said, including some "targeted sanctions."

Rubio had a tougher tone Sunday. He offered a sweeping view of Russia, saying "they're increasingly behaving like an enemy of international peace and international norms."

He said Putin is rejecting the international standards in place since World War II, including the spread of democracy and accepted norms for international conduct.

"Russia, under this President Putin, does not seem interested in any of that," he said. "So they are an enemy of that. And they are certainly, as it regards to that, an enemy of the United States with regard to those things I just outlined."

Other Republicans pounced on Obama.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Obama's 2008 Republican opponent, last month told a Phoenix radio station Obama was "the most naive president in history."

Last week, he recalled Obama drew a "red line" against use of chemical weapons in Syria, and then stepped back from threatened military action in favor of a negotiated agreement that so far has left the Syrian regime in power.

Republicans were split over Syria, though, as many were not eager for military action.

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