POLITICS: PennAve

Republicans call for Obama to get tougher with Vladimir Putin

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Republicans are calling on President Obama to get tough with strongman Vladimir Putin as Russia amasses troops on its border with Ukraine in preparation for a possible invasion.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation" from Ukraine, gingerly called for Obama to ratchet up the pressure on Putin. She lauded the sanctions Obama has imposed on Russia thus far, but said that the administration must do more aid Ukraine punish Putin. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., was similarly critical, in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press."

“We need to be a little bit tougher with Putin or he is going to continue to take territory to fulfill what he believes is rightfully Russia,” Rogers said.

Ayotte said Obama must do more with economic sanctions to target Russia's energy exports, considered the key to country's economic vitality. She also called for a U.S. naval presence in the Black Sea to signal to Putin that the U.S. is serious about working with its allies to prevent further Russian territorial expansion.

“It’s so important that we take actions to deter further Russian aggression against the Ukrainian people,” Ayotte said, adding that Putin is “a bully, and bullies only understand when we punch them in the nose.”

This past week, Russia completed its invasion of Ukraine's Crimea region by annexing the territory. Ukraine does not believe that this victory will be enough to satisfy Putin, and the country is taking the Russian troops gathered on its eastern border very seriously. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsia said flatly that the chances for war with Russia are “growing.”

“We don't know what Putin has in his mind and what would be his decision,” he said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." “That's why the situation is becoming even more explosive than it was a week ago.”

In an interview on CNN's "State of the Union," the Obama administration Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken argued the White House has taken a tough stand and is doing everything possible to force Putin to stand down.

“What we’ve seen the president do in recent weeks and what we’ll see him do this week is bring the world together in support of Ukraine, to isolate Russia for its actions in Ukraine and to reassure our allies in NATO and in Europe,” Blinken said.

Mitt Romney, the Republicans' 2012 presidential nominee, was pointedly critical of both Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying the crisis in Ukraine proves that their policy of “resetting” relations with Russia was an abject failure.

Romney, who was ridiculed by Obama during the campaign for referring to Russia as a “geopolitical foe” of the U.S., said Obama could have prevented Putin's invasion of Ukraine had he better understood the reality of Putin's intentions and global outlook. Romney called for tougher sanctions and said the Obama administration should reconsider its move to cancel the installation of missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic that were negotiated by Obama's predecessor.

Obama and Clinton, Romney said, “thought resetting relations with Russia — handing out gifts to Russia — would somehow make Russia change its objectives. Well that certainly wasn’t the case.”

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., agreed that the U.S. needs to step up its support for Ukraine and punish Russia further. But he dismissed criticism that Obama should be held responsible for Putin's actions in Ukraine. Putin, Durbin said, would have invaded Ukraine regardless of U.S. policy toward Russia because he believed it was in his domestic political interests.

“Here's Vladimir Putin with a failing Soviet franchise, and when he can't win the hearts and minds of his neighboring nations, he uses energy extortion, masked gunmen and barbed wire,” Durbin said on "Face The Nation." “But this notion that some sanction is going to stop a former colonel in the KGB from his ambitions of a Russian empire is naïve.”

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