President Barack Obama speaks in St. Paul, Minn., on Feb. 26, 2014.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

U.S. leaders go strong against Russia

Updated

As America’s leadership weighs its options to confront one of Russia’s boldest standoffs with the West since the Cold War, the underlying message is clear: There will be consequences.

Lawmakers are demanding swift actions against Russia, including potentially dropping them from the G-8 summit, strengthening NATO ties, freezing assets, issuing visa bans, and imposing other economic sanctions. 

Secretary of State John Kerry will fly to the Ukrainian capital for discussions, planting a senior American presence in the region as the West urged Russia to back away from Crimea and threatened consequences if it didn’t budge. The aggressive order comes just weeks after violent protests in the region that lead to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych skipping out on the countrry.

Ukrainian base in Crimea surrounded by Russian troops
Armed Russian troops confronted a military base in Ukraine's Crimea region Sunday in a standoff demanding the Ukranian soldiers lay down their weapons.
“Time is of the essence. The U.S. and our allies must make crystal clear to Russia now that its aggression against Ukraine will have major adverse consequences.  We must lead our allies to take a strong and unified stand,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce said. ”The time for those tough actions is now, before the democratic hopes of Ukrainians are crushed.”

Both the United States and UK announced they pulled out of preparations for the G-8 summit taking place in Sochi this coming June and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew emphasized in separate phone calls with United Kingdom Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and French Minister of Finance Pierre Moscovici that the U.S. is prepared to work with its bilateral and multilateral partners to provide as much support as Ukraine needs to restore financial stability and return to economic growth. Lew also discussed the possibility of sanctions and other steps to address the situation in Ukraine.

Leaders of the G7 industrial powers – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the presidents of the European Council and European Commission – condemned Russia’s actions in a statement released by the White House Sunday. 

We, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States and the President of the European Council and President of the European Commission, join together today to condemn the Russian Federation’s clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, in contravention of Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter and its 1997 basing agreement with Ukraine,” the statement read.

“We call on Russia to address any ongoing security or human rights concerns that it has with Ukraine through direct negotiations, and/or via international observation or mediation under the auspices of the UN or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  We stand ready to assist with these efforts.”

President Obama spoke individually with British Prime Minister David Cameron, President Komorowski of Poland, and Chancellor Merkel of Germany on the phone Sunday about the unraveling situation. 

“The leaders affirmed the importance of unity within the international community in support of international law and their support for the Government of Ukraine, including its territorial integrity and its efforts to move forward with elections in May so that the Ukrainian people can continue to determine their own future in this historic hour,” a White House statement read. “The leaders also pledged to work together on a package of multilateral and bilateral financial assistance to help Ukraine as it pursues urgently needed reforms to stabilize its economy. The leaders agreed to continue to coordinate closely, including bilaterally, and through appropriate international organizations.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin also held his own phone call with Germany’s Angela Merkel Sunday and argued his move to send troops helps stabilize the area and protect national interests.

A statement issued by the Krelim said, “Vladimir Putin drew the Federal Chancellor’s attention to the unrelenting threat of violence by ultra-nationalist forces, endangering the lives and legitimate interests of Russian citizens and the entire Russian-speaking population.”

International leaders have been scrambling to halt the spiraling diplomatic crisis in Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

Kerry slammed Putin’s “act of aggression” and warned Russia will feel the pain economically if they don’t withdraw troops. “There’s a unified view by all of the foreign ministers I talked with yesterday – all of the G-8 and more – that they’re simply going to isolate Russia; that they’re not going to engage with Russia in a normal business-as-usual manner,” Kerry said on Sunday’s Meet The Press.

“Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everyone’s eyes roll including mine. We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “President Obama needs to do something. How about this: Suspend Russian membership in the G8 and the G20 at least for a year starting right now and for every day they stay in the Crimea add to the suspension.”

Democratic Whip Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who shot down Graham’s comments on Obama’s leadership, agreed on the need to strengthen the NATO alliance and kick them out of the G-8.

“This notion of taking him out of the G8 has already been suggested by the administration, some members, and I think that’s the right thing to do,” said Durbin, also a guest on State of the Union. Durbin said rich Russian oligarchs “should be denied an opportunity to fly back and forth to Europe at will. We’ve got to make him feel that there’s a price to pay for this conduct.”

Kerry suggested visa bans and freezing assets are also on the table, and Congress should consider putting together an aid package for Ukraine.

Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger vowed to stand by Obama and a firm stance against Russia.

“I think it’s important for Congress - and I think you’ll see this - to stand very strong with the president in saying, look, we may not be able to respond militarily, but we’re going to make it clear that Russia is a pariah state, and not just for the next year but for the next decade or two going forward,” said Kinzinger.

Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged the administration to work alongside European allies.

“One of the steps that we and our allies could take would be to place a significant number of international observers on the ground in Ukraine, if requested by the Ukrainian government,” said Levin on Sunday. “The presence of international observers on the ground could reduce the risk that Russia would make a false claim of provocative acts by Ukraine as an excuse for further violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, and thereby help avoid a conflict that nobody should want.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, who called Russia a “government of liars,” remained skeptical of Russia’s cooperation. They’ve “basically violated every major treaty they’ve ever entered into,” he said on Sunday’s Meet The Press.

However, the Florida Republican and Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan stressed no one is arguing for military intervention against Russia at time.

“Putin is playing chess, and I think we’re playing marbles,” Rogers said on Fox News, criticizing the Obama administration’s diplomatic maneuvering skills. “Sending [forces] into the Black Sea is not a good idea right now,” he cautioned. “There are not a lot of [military] options on the table.”

Disrupt With Karen Finney, 3/2/14, 5:57 PM ET

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U.S. leaders go strong against Russia

Updated