More Washington Officials Have Tough Talk for Russia

Harry Reid and John Boehner join a growing chorus of politicians airing their views on what the U.S. should do to punish Russia and help a Ukraine in crisis.

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While Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Kiev today to "reaffirm the United States' strong support for Ukrainian sovereignty," and President Barack Obama continues to condemn Russia's actions and considers ways to isolate the country, senior U.S. lawmakers have also started to wade into the debate on what exactly should be done in Ukraine. And with the 2014 primaries drawing ever closer, some politicians appear to be using Ukraine as one opportunity to give themselves valuable foreign policy credentials to dredge up in time for the debates. 

John McCain

Speaking with Wolf Blitzer at CNN on Monday, McCain suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin is attempting to restore the Russian empire, with Ukraine as the "crown jewel." The Republican senator from Arizona said that while the U.S. needs to consider a variety of actions against Russia, including economic sanctions and canceling the G-8 Summit in Sochi, the U.S. also needs to restore its credibility, which he says it lost after refusing to strike Syria.

Harry Reid

Reid, the most senior Senate Democrat, said in an interview on Monday that the U.S. should wait "a while" to punish Russia until the European community agrees with a specific response to the crisis in Ukraine, Politico reports. Reid said the U.S. should also wait before imposing sanctions on Russia, and also said that the U.S. could work to cripple the country by clamping down where it hurts — on banking.

“The most important thing is for us – the United States – to make sure that we don’t go off without the European community,” Reid said. “We have to work with them. Their interests are really paramount if we are going to do sanctions of some kind. We have to have them on board with us.”

John Boehner

Republican House Speaker John Boehner called Putin a "thug" in an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer on Monday. Boehner told the paper that he wants to impose sanctions on Russia, but didn't specify which kind. “It’s time to stand up to [Vladimir] Putin,” Boehner said. “At what point do you say enough is enough? We are at that point.”

Lindsay Graham

Speaking on CNN on Sunday, Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina said: “President Obama needs to do something. How about this, suspend Russian membership in the G-8 and the G-20 at least for a year starting right now. And for every day they stay in Crimea, add to the suspension.”

“I would fly the NATO flag as strongly as I could around Putin. I would suspend his membership in the G-8, be the G-7. The G-20 would become the G-19 at least for a year. And every day he stays in the Ukraine, I would add to it.” Graham added that the "Iranians are watching."

Bob Corker and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Marco Rubio

The Florida senator, and almost-definite candidate for president in 2016, is testing the foreign policy waters by airing his views on Venezuela and Ukraine. On Saturday, Rubio published a handy guide on how Obama should punish Russia in Politico, which includes suggestions like calling it "what it is: a military invasion" and allowing the Republic of Georgia to join NATO.

"This is a critical moment in world history. The credibility of the alliances and security assurances that have preserved the international order is at stake. If Putin’s illegal actions are allowed to stand unpunished, it will usher in a dark and dangerous era in world affairs," Rubio writes.

Dick Durbin

The Democratic senator from Illinois called for the release of Ukraine's former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko last June, months before the country's current crisis. In February, Durbin suggested that Ukrainian and Russian government officials involved in the violence should have their assets frozen, and called the fiery protests a "bloodbath." On Sunday, Durbin spoke with 200 members of Chicago's Ukrainian community, reassuring them there has been no suggestion by Obama of military force or boots on the ground.

Speaking on CNN, Durbin also said that the Senate should pass a resolution "condemning what Putin has done."

Rand Paul

Another likely presidential candidate, Paul spoke with The Washington Post about his views on the Ukraine crisis: don't antagonize Putin, and seek "respectful" relations with Russia. "I'm not excited about saying, hey, let's put the Ukraine in NATO to rub Russia's nose in it," Paul said, adding that the U.S. should be glad the Cold War is all but a distant memory.

Honorary Mention: Sarah Palin

While she's no longer a politician, Alaska's proximity to Russia, and therefore the crisis in Ukraine, has made Palin a fleeting expert in foreign relations yet again. Mindreader Palin appeared to have predicted the fallout, but doesn't have any advice on how to solve the problem just yet.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.