Sanctions Proponent Doesn’t Think They’ll Make Putin Back Off in Ukraine

Sen. John McCain hopes the U.S. has “learned a lesson about this guy.”

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), shown talking last week to reporters, on Sunday outlined several concerns about a deal reached by Iran and six other governments to address the Middle Eastern nation's disputed nuclear activities.
National Journal
Elahe Izad
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Elahe Izad
March 4, 2014, 1:01 p.m.

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.”

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