WASHINGTON -- A fresh round of U.S. sanctions
against top Russian officials amounts to little more than a "slap on the wrist" and will do little to halt the unrest in Ukraine, Republican lawmakers said.
Members of Congress in recent days had called for the Obama administration to impose sanctions on key economic players in Russia, such as state-owned gas giant Gazprom. But several said they were underwhelmed by the April 28 announcement of sanctions against seven Russian officials and 17 Russian companies, most of which are relatively obscure.
"After a week of rhetoric from the administration, I had hoped we would have responded to Russia's blatant violations of its commitments to cease efforts to destabilize Ukraine with more than just a slap on the wrist," U.S. Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said in a statement
Corker, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, added that only by levying penalties against major companies will Russian President Vladimir Putin be forced to reconsider his government's actions in the Ukraine crisis.
"Until Putin feels the real pain of sanctions targeting entities like Gazprom, which the Kremlin uses to coerce Ukraine and other neighbors, as well as some significant financial institutions, I don't think diplomacy will change Russian behavior and de-escalate this crisis," Corker said.
The Obama administration has repeatedly said that, in preparing sanctions to punish the Kremlin over its role in the Ukraine crisis, it is carefully weighing the collateral economic damage such penalties could generate for the United States and its European allies, who depend heavily on Russian gas.
Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire, called the new round of sanctions
"tepid" and "insufficient" to deter Russia after the Kremlin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea territory last month and amid its "ongoing actions to fuel unrest in eastern Ukraine."
"Putin will not be deterred until the U.S. takes swift action to impose sanctions now on Russia's financial sector -- and authorizes more severe sanctions, such as on Russia's energy sector, that would go into effect should Putin take additional aggressive actions against Ukraine," Ayotte said in a statement.
Senator Dan Coats said he was encouraged by the sanctions announced by the White House against influential senior officials seen as close to Putin, but that he is concerned the administration's actions are "too little, too late."
"To date, the lack of a forceful, effective response by the administration and Western leaders has given this bully on the playground little reason to expect that further aggression will be punished," Coats, an Indiana Republican, said in a statement
Much of the criticism of the new sanctions came from Republicans in Congress. The office of Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who last week called for Gazprom and other major Russian companies to be sanctioned, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
U.S. Representative Lois Frankel, a Democrat from Florida who recently visited Ukraine with a group of fellow lawmakers, said in an April 28 television interview with MSNBC that U.S. President Barack Obama is approaching the sanctions prudently so as not to inflict economic pain on Europe.
"I think our president is taking a cautious approach warranted because our European allies are...trade partners with Russia, they depend on Russia's energy," Frankel said in the interview, "The Hill" reported
. "And so we have [to] be careful because sanctions against Russia also have the good probability of hurting our allies."
Written by Carl Schreck with reporting by Luke Johnson