WASHINGTON -- Senior lawmakers on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee have questioned Obama administration officials over sanctions against Russia.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey) and ranking member Bob Corker (Republican-Tennessee) both asked during a July 9 hearing on Ukraine why Obama's administration had not pursued further sanctions against Russia.
Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland said the administration believed sanctions would be more effective with European participation and that more sanctions were being prepared.
She added that European leaders were meeting on July 16, and further action could come after that date.
Menendez suggested that lawmakers may take action on their own against Russia, saying: "I don't get it. And I don't know how much longer there are going to be those of us willing to wait."
He repeatedly asked Nuland, "What are we waiting for?"
'I'm Embarrassed For Us'
While Senate Republicans have already introduced a bill to impose sanctions on Russia beyond what the administration has been willing to do, the pressure from the Democratic Foreign Relations chairman was more unusual.
Both Corker and Menendez appeared visibly exasperated at administration officials throughout the hearing.
Corker said the sanctions policy was "feckless" and asked Nuland why the administration wasn't putting more sanctions on Russia.
Nuland starting to answer about what might have happened had the administration not sanctioned Russia. Corker cut her off, and said he did not want to hear it.
Nuland then said that the Obama administration was "talking with the Europeans about when it is appropriate to move together," repeating that the United States and Europeans preferred to move together.
She defended existing sanctions as effective, citing the presidential election in Ukraine and a Russian troop withdrawal of 40,000 troops in May from areas near Russia's border with Ukraine.
"We have, when we work together with Europe, been able to provide time and space for Ukraine to recover," Nuland said.
Corker took a long pause and said: "I'm embarrassed for us. I just wish the administration would quit saying publicly, through you and others, the things that are being said when we know that we're not going to act."
In response to Russia's annexation of Crimea and Russia's role in the subsequent fighting in eastern Ukraine, the Obama administration has chosen to sanction individuals who are Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainians rather than entire sectors of the Russian economy.
However, Nuland repeated that the Obama administration is ready to impose "targeted, sector-specific sanctions very soon if Russia does not decisively change course and break its support for separatists."