Military options are off the table for the United States as it looks to counter Russia’s military occupation of Crimea, Sen. John McCain said on Monday.
“There is not a military option that can be exercised now,” the Arizona Republican said, but he stressed that the United States should still have a wide variety of options including economic sanctions and targeting individuals responsible for the invasion.
His comments, which came at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference, echoed those from a trio of administration officials on Sunday.
“Right now, I think we are focused on political and economic and diplomatic options…. So we have not — and, frankly, our goal is to uphold the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, not to have a military escalation,” a senior administration official said, when asked if the United States is currently considering military options as part of its response.
Another senior administration official added that getting the military involved wouldn’t help de-escalate the situation.
The United States, in coordination with NATO and European Union allies, is considering a range of other options, the officials said. Those could include “isolation, potential sanctions, and relationships between Russia and international institutions.”
But while McCain doesn’t believe President Obama has military options, he does think the White House shoulders some blame for Russia’s bold moves in Crimea.
“This is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength anymore,” McCain said.
Obama spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the weekend, and Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday.
What direct impact those talks are having is murky. U.S. officials have repeatedly called on Russia to draw back its forces, but Ukraine said on Monday that Russia is calling on the crews of two Ukrainian warships to surrender or face attack. Russian officials have denied making that threat.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that if the reports are true, it would constitute a “dangerous escalation of the situation, for which we would hold Russia directly responsible.”
The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting Monday afternoon on Ukraine.
And McCain on Monday stressed that the situation in Ukraine is also tied to current negotiations in the Middle East, including those over Iran’s nuclear program and the Syrian chemical weapons deal. U.S. and Russian officials have worked together on both fronts.
McCain added: “The president of the United States believes that the Cold War is over, and that’s fine if it is over, but Putin doesn’t believe its over. He doesn’t believe that this is a zero-sum game.”