No more love for Russia? Rep. Robert Pittenger now wants ‘draconian’ sanctions


McClatchy Washington Bureau

Rep. Robert Pittenger of North Carolina has joined other leading voices calling for “draconian economic sanctions” against Russia and blaming President Barack Obama's policies for allowing the Ukraine crisis to get out of hand.

The Charlotte Republican and chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism had been working to improve ties with Russia. Plans were under way to reschedule a canceled meeting in January with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss shared terrorism concerns. Pittenger met with Russian leaders in Vienna last month to discuss threats. In January, Pittenger introduced the Russian ambassador at a World Affairs Council dinner in Charlotte to discuss shared economic goals.

That, Pittenger said, was before Russia broke the law. The U.S. government contends Russia violated international law with its military intervention of the Crimean Peninsula.

“We’ve got to deal with this,” Pittenger said. “You can’t just play games. This is a major affront to international law.”

The White House is preparing economic sanctions, and discussions are under way of a possible boycott of the annual G8 summit in Sochi, Russia, this summer.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday the United States is closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine. He said Russia has an “easy way out,” which is to bring United Nations officials to Crimea so they can independently assess the situation and ensure the Ukrainian people's rights are being protected.

But some Republicans want a stronger response. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., said America’s credibility is on the line. Putin needs to be punished for violating the Ukraine’s sovereignty, he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a critic of Obama’s foreign policy, called Putin’s military intervention a consequence of the United States’ lack of response in Benghazi when U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed.

“When you kill Americans and nobody pays a price, you invite this type of aggression,” Graham said Tuesday via Twitter.

Pittenger does not think military action is necessary. He proposes economic sanctions and freezing assets. He also wants to eliminate restrictions on exporting liquid natural gas to the Ukraine to offset that country’s dependence on Russian exports. But the United States can’t just talk about it, he says.

“I don’t think that Mr. Putin pays one ounce of attention to what is from our government,” Pittenger said. “We’re not perceived as strong. We’re not perceived as committed. We’re not perceived as being willing to hold the line and do what we say. It’s a hollowness that rings out. We have to act.”

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