The Senate's top Republican and the leading GOP senator on the Foreign Relations Committee are introducing legislation Wednesday aimed at deterring Russian aggression in Ukraine, and delivering a muted rebuke of President Obama's handling of the crisis in the eastern part of the country.
"The current sanctions have failed to impose the type of cost that will change Vladimir Putin's calculus," according to a statement outlining the legislation obtained by National Journal. "Absent such costs, Putin will continue to destabilize Ukraine and may invade."
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday about the need for legislation, saying that NATO should be strengthened, Russia should be penalized for its actions, and non-NATO members should be supported, as well.
The bill, whose backers also include Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, comes after the passage of sanctions against Russia that had bipartisan support and suggests a growing rift between congressional Republicans and the White House.
Corker, who said he and his colleagues wrote the bill as if they were "sitting in the White House", nonetheless said Republicans felt as if they could not wait to unveil the bill until some Democrats approved of it. Corker also said he told his Democratic committee counterpart, Chairman Bob Menendez of New Jersey, of his intentions before introducing the bill and that Republicans went ahead after Democrats balked at Iran sanctions earlier in this Congress.
"We just felt like with the essence of time and just our sincere concern about what's happening in eastern Ukraine, it was better to just go ahead and get something out there and hope that it'll have some effect on behavior," Corker said.
"The lack of a forceful, effective response by the administration and Western leaders has given Putin little reason to expect that further aggression will be punished," Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, a cosponsor, said in an email. "We are introducing tough diplomatic, economic, and financial sanctions, and I am hopeful that President Obama will support our effort. If he is willing to lead by taking action that demonstrates American disapproval of Russia's actions, I am confident that a bipartisan majority in Congress will stand with him."
The senators pointed to violence in eastern Ukraine, including the shooting of the mayor of Kharkiv and the taking of hostages affiliated with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as part of their impetus for pushing the legislation, although its prospects for passage appear slight.
The legislation calls the annexation of Crimea illegal and calls for new sanctions against Russian officials involved with the takeover. It would also give $100 million in direct military aid to Ukraine and authorize the export of U.S. natural gas to Ukraine, which relies heavily on Russia as a source of energy.