Washington, DC – Key United States lawmakers were quick to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling for swift sanctions against Moscow, President Vladimir Putin, and elites in his inner circle.
President Joe Biden and his top aides had vowed to impose severe penalties on Russia if invades its neighbour, and with an apparent full-scale Russian attack that started late on Wednesday, top legislators from both US major parties are calling for serious consequences for Moscow.
Bob Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Russian leadership should be expelled from the international community.
“I am committed to ensuring that the United States upholds our responsibility to exact maximum costs on Putin, the Russian economy, and those who enabled and facilitated this trampling of Ukraine’s sovereignty,” Menendez said in a statement.
Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the same panel, warned Putin of “painful and swift” repercussions if Russian forces do not withdraw from Ukraine.
“These are not the actions of a proud nation and people, but the actions of a desperate man whose only desire is to sow chaos in order to make himself look strong,” Risch said in a statement late on Wednesday, referring to Putin.
Neither chamber of Congress is scheduled to convene this week, with legislators in their home districts – away from Washington, DC. But the Biden administration has the authority to impose sanctions on its own through the US Department of the Treasury.
Earlier this week, Senator Lindsey Graham, a key Republican, said lawmakers were working on a bill to provide additional aid to Ukraine.
“Imperative that we continue to provide Ukraine with defensive weapons as well as good intelligence,” Graham wrote on Twitter on Wednesday night.
“Putin and his cronies should be pursued by international law enforcement agencies for the purpose of seizing their lavish apartments, fine art, yachts, and other material goods purchased through stealing the Russian people blind.”
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy called Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine an “evil, panicked move of weakness”.
“Tonight, the entire Post World War international order sits on a knife edge. If Putin does not pay a devastating price for this transgression, then our own security will soon be at risk,” Murphy wrote on Twitter late on Wednesday.
Putin has launched a military operation in Ukraine after a months-long standoff during which the Russian army amassed troops near the Ukrainian border. The Russian leader said Moscow’s aim is to “demilitarise” Ukraine without occupying it.
Russia initially denied that it planned to invade its neighbour, insisting that it has legitimate security grievances relating to Kyiv’s deepening alliance with the West – and demanding guarantees that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO.
Numerous rounds of talks between Russian, European and US officials have failed to defuse the tensions.
On Monday, Moscow recognised the independence of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists had been battling government forces since 2014. Biden responded to Putin’s recognition of Luhansk and Donetsk with sanctions on two Russian banks and the country’s sovereign debt.
More serious US measures are expected to be announced on Thursday in response to the ongoing invasion.
“The time for diplomacy is over,” said Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on Thursday.
McCaul told CBS News that while Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and therefore it will not be defended by US forces, Washington has provided weapons to the country. “And let me just say that we stand strongly with the people of Ukraine,” he said.
Gregory Meeks, the Democratic chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also rebuked Putin for attacking Ukraine.
“My thoughts are with the Ukrainian people as they face Putin’s unprovoked and clearly premeditated attack,” Meeks said on Twitter. “He alone started this war and he must end it. Until then, the US and our allies will impose severe & swift consequences for this needless loss of life.”