Two members of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee called Sunday for tougher Western sanctions against Russia to include its petrochemical and banking industries and warned that Moscow thus far has ignored US and European efforts to persuade it to back off its confrontation with Ukraine. “We’ve helped in many ways to create the problems that exist there. And to leave them alone in the manner that we’re leaving them alone to me is just unconscionable,” Sen. Bob Corker, the committee’s senior Republican member, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I don’t think Putin really believes we’re going to punish them in that way,” he said. Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, a member of the same committee, said, “I think the time is now to rapidly ratchet up our sanctions, whether it’s on Russian petrochemical companies or on Russian banks.” “If Russia does get away with this, I do think that there’s a potential that a NATO ally is next. And, yes, there will be economic pain to Europe (under tightened sanctions). But it’s time for them to lead as well.” US President Barack Obama has said his administration is prepared to take further action against Russia if diplomatic efforts to destabilize the conflict fail. Vice President Joe Biden is flying to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, on Monday. Biden’s office announced Sunday night that he would meet Tuesday with Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleksandr Turchynov, the acting Ukrainian prime minister and president, and legislators from the Rada, Ukraine’s parliament. Biden also plans to meet with democracy activists before returning to Washington on Tuesday night. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last week that the US is looking for ways to reassure its NATO allies of its strong commitment to collective defense. The Pentagon’s press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, has said that American officials are considering a range of additional measures to bolster air, maritime and ground readiness in Europe.
A Western official said Saturday that the US is considering deploying about 150 soldiers for military exercises to begin in Poland and Estonia. The ground exercises in the two countries, both NATO members, would last about two weeks but such exercises would continue on a rotating basis off and on over time, the official said, and other locations in Eastern Europe would be considered. The official was not authorized to discuss the plan by name because it has not been made final and requested anonymity. Corker, who plans to be in the region in May, said unless the Russians “immediately begin moving the 40,000 troops on the border which are intimidating people in Ukraine, unless they begin immediately moving them away, I really do believe we should be sanctioning some of the companies in the energy sector, Gazprom and others. I think we should hit some of the large banks there.” Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Ukraine, said that an international agreement forged late last week designed to ease tensions in Ukraine may be “the best chance that we have got to achieve a diplomatic de-escalation of this crisis. And we’re working hard at it.” He told CNN’s “State of the Union” that “there are obviously some real challenges at this point,” including a fresh outbreak of violence earlier Sunday in eastern Ukraine. “But we also believe that there has been some progress. I’m seeing reports this morning that at least one of these government buildings now has a Ukrainian flag flying over it,” Pyatt said. Times Of Israel