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Lawmakers Call on Obama to Impose Sanctions on Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Yanukovych attend a Russian-Ukrainian Summit in December, where the latter signed a series of agreements to boost trade and industrial cooperation with Russia, refusing to strengthen cooperation with the EU. (Kommersant via Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Yanukovych attend a Russian-Ukrainian Summit in December, where the latter signed a series of agreements to boost trade and industrial cooperation with Russia, refusing to strengthen cooperation with the EU. (Kommersant via Getty Images)

Updated 5:57 p.m. | The eruption of violence in Ukraine has several lawmakers calling on President Barack Obama to impose “targeted sanctions” on the country.  

Both the chairman and the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Ed Royce of California and Democrat Eliot L. Engel of New York, respectively, issued separate statements Wednesday calling on the president to immediately act to mitigate violence in Ukraine — and Capitol Hill has found its buzz phrase for action in Kiev.  

“Targeted sanctions” has emerged as the immediate step lawmakers seek, and the White House seems to increasingly be heading that direction as violence continues between protesters and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s government.  

“Last week, the House of Representatives went on record, calling for the ‘utmost restraint’ and avoidance of confrontation in Ukraine,” Royce said in a statement Wednesday, referring to a House-passed resolution that encourages financial sanctions on some government actors and encourages the Ukrainian government to repeal anti-democratic measures enacted in January that sparked the protests in the first place.  

“Significantly,” Royce wrote, “the resolution called for the Administration to impose additional ‘targeted sanctions’ against those individuals responsible for the violence. Today, the White House indicated that it is considering doing just that.” During a bilateral trade meeting in Mexico, Obama said Wednesday that the White House expects “peaceful protesters to remain peaceful” and said the administration would be “monitoring very closely the situation, recognizing that with our European partners and the international community there will be consequences if people step over the line.”  

But lawmakers seem to think the president shouldn’t wait.  

“The President should act now, without delay, before more are killed in the streets of Kiev and elsewhere in Ukraine,” Royce said.  

Engel, who sponsored the House resolution regarding Ukraine, had a similar message.  

“At this critical moment,” he wrote, “the United States must stand up for the democratic and human rights of the citizens of Ukraine, and for their democratic aspirations and right to choose their own future.”  

Engel said Ukraine had witnessed a “shocking escalation in violence” resulting in several dozen deaths and hundreds of injuries, and he said those who ordered and participated in these latest tragic events in Ukraine must be held personally accountable.  

He urged the administration to “take immediate action and impose targeted sanctions, including visa restrictions and the freezing of all financial assets, against those individuals responsible for authorizing and engaging in violence, in particular against peaceful protesters.”  

Engel also urged the European Union to take similar actions, and he said while he believed the administration has the authority to take appropriate actions, the House should also consider, if necessary, additional congressional action.  

For weeks, the White House has urged the EU to take action in Ukraine after the country declined an integration agreement with the EU. Such an agreement would damage Ukrainian relations with Russia but expand the EU’s power and reach. The German foreign minister recently likened the situation to a “powder keg” and a “geopolitical chess game.”  

A senior State Department official said late Wednesday that the administration would block visas for 20 top-level Ukrainians and warned additional actions targeting Ukraine could be taken in the coming days in concert with the EU.  

Meanwhile, lawmakers continue to issue ever-stronger language against the Ukrainian government and are increasingly calling on Obama to act.  

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who recently traveled to Ukraine together, issued a joint statement Wednesday that condemned the “tragic and horrific” violence. The duo acknowledged that some of the violence was the responsibility of some anti-government protesters.  

“However, the ultimate responsibility for the deteriorating situation in Ukraine lies with the Yanukovich government,” McCain and Murphy wrote. “It has refused to take meaningful, timely steps to resolve the country’s political and economic crisis through dialogue, while making opaque deals for Russian financing as a means of avoiding necessary reforms. The government has escalated tensions, cracked down on peaceful demonstrators, and taken up arms against its citizens.”  

McCain and Murphy said there “must be consequences for the escalation of violence in Ukraine.”  

They said they had begun drafting on legislation that would “impose targeted sanctions on government officials and other persons who have committed, ordered, or materially supported acts of violence against peaceful citizens in Ukraine, or who are complicit in the rollback of Ukraine’s democracy.”  

“These sanctions should not, and will not, target the people or the country of Ukraine as a whole,” McCain and Murphy said. “Instead, they will be narrowly focused on those individuals who must be held accountable for violating human rights and undermining democracy. We remain in contact with the Administration and look forward to working together on this legislation.”  

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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