Some of those pushing for new sanctions against Russia are under no delusions that such penalties will actually force President Vladimir Putin to change his course in Ukraine. But they want them nonetheless.
“We have to act. To do nothing is the worst of all actions,” Sen. John McCain said Tuesday. The hawkish Republican later added that sanctions won’t get Putin out of Crimea because “he believes Crimea … is part of the Russian empire.”
“He has to be punished. I see the end game as hopefully, we’ve learned a lesson about this guy and perhaps we can put up a more united front and discard all of our illusions,” McCain said.
The State Department is already preparing an expanded round of sanctions, and senators are debating whether to consider more sanctions legislation, either as part of a $1 billion aid package to Ukraine or separately.
Another consideration is the extension of the the Magnitsky Act, which Congress has already passed. It freezes American bank accounts and bans U.S. travel by some Russian officials deemed as human-rights abusers.
“Magnitsky scares the hell out of them, Magnitsky scares the daylights out of these oligarchs that love to raise their kids in London, spend time in Las Vegas,” McCain said. “That really has had an effect on Russians, even as restricted as the administration has interpreted it.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs, says new sanctions need to give Obama broad authority to impose economic and political penalties. “Adding names to the Magnitsky list is important but it doesn’t actually change behavior in Moscow. You’ve got to send a very clear message that this will hurt.”
But without the backing of European nations, many acknowledge a new round of American sanctions likely won’t make Russia hurt that badly. Russia accounts for just 2 percent of American trade, and it doesn’t sound like top European Union figures want to go down the sanctions path.
That’s something that McCain acknowledged. “If Europe decides not to, we have to act. We’re supposed to be the world’s superpower. We should act like it.”