Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., ripped the White House Monday for not taking a firmer stand against Russia following the announcement of sanctions against eleven Russian and Ukrainian people.
“This president’s response, I don’t know how it could have been weaker besides doing nothing,” McCain said on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports.
“Vladimir Putin must be encouraged the absolute timidity, ” McCain said.
“The president should have said we are going to provide military assistance to Ukraine and that will be in defensive weaponry,” McCain continued. “But to not do that after this country has lost a large part of its territory due to Russian aggression … it makes me less optimistic about Putin exercising restraint in eastern Ukraine.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said in response to McCain’s criticism that the senator’s opinion of the President Obama’s performance has “fluctuated … every several days.”
He also stressed that Obama’s efforts have been guided by the notion that Russia will pay a price for its transgressions and that a diplomatic option is still possible.
“All of those things are happening,” Carney said.
McCain’s comments came after Obama announced that the government would impose sanctions on 11 individuals who are close to Putin and believed to have helped and encouraged Russia’s incursion into Crimea and the undermining of the Ukrainian government.
He also authorized expanding the scope of existing sanctions and promised more if deemed warranted.
The sanctions were sparked, in part, by a vote held Sunday in Crimea on whether the public would like to succeed from Ukraine and become part of Russia.
The vote was seen as a sham by many observers and follows Russia’s military incursion into the region after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Putin ally, was deposed by a popular uprising.
Putin could raise the tension by taking steps to annex Crimea — although the Associated Press and other news organizations reported Monday he put out a decree recognizing its independence but not annexation.
McCain, who just returned from visiting Ukraine with seven other senators, said that nation wants help rebuilding its military.
“They want it very badly,” McCain said of military aid. “Their military capabilities have been eroded over the last several years.”
“One of the things I would do is send some of our military to Kiev and find out how we can best assist them,” McCain continued, adding that the Ukrainians “feel to a large degree that we are not giving them the support that they had hoped for."
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who joined McCain on the trip, agreed that the Ukrainian military is in bas shape.
“Their military is quite hollowed out because the former leader was really a puppet for Putin,” Barrasso said on MSNBC.
“So as the prime minister told me, what they have in their military, nothing flies, nothing shoots, nothing works,” Barrasso continued. “They're going to need assistance all around and they're going to need a world community to show strength against Putin, who only recognizes strength. And I believe he doesn't know what he is going to do yet. I believe he is calculating the credibility of his opponents on a daily basis.”
But Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who was among the eight senators who visited Ukraine, said he doesn't back arming Ukraine.
“This has to be not only about major economic support for Ukraine to solidify their government — tough real sanctions, not just against individuals, but against Russian banks and Russian petrochemical companies, but also some acknowledgement that there is some non-lethal support that we can give the Ukrainian military,” Murphy said on MSNBC. “I'm not suggesting arming them, but they can use things like MREs and communications equipment that may help them at least forestall a greater movement into their territory other than Crimea.”
He also dismissed criticism of Obama whom he credits with helping encourage Ukraine’s embrace of the west and turning away from Russia’s sphere of influence.
"Well, I think the criticism of the administration is ridiculous,” Murphy said. “The fact is … that we are in a position now where the vast majority of Ukraine has turned away from Russia and towards the E.U., in part, because of the strong position from the administration.”