WASHINGTON—In a grassy field in eastern Ukraine, several victims of the Malaysian plane crash rot in the summer sun. Pro-Russian separatist fighters have already invaded the site to nab credit cards, cash, and visas from the dead. International investigators have limited access.
Today in Washington, representatives on the House Foreign Affairs Committee called for the United States to enforce tougher sanctions against Russia.
“Our goal has to be to try to wind down this crisis,” said Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif.
Instead of discussing the crash itself, representatives primarily condemned Russia’s involvement in Ukraine.
Recent reports suggest unidentified Russians may have given inexperienced separatist rebels the missile launcher that shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. The separatists mistook it for a Ukrainian military plane and killed 298 civilians. For American representatives, that was just the latest in a long list of Russian efforts to take control of eastern Ukraine.
“We Russians and Americans seem to be headed for a new Cold War,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who is the chairman of the European Subcommittee. “The chaos, the violence, no matter what preceded it, needs to stop now.”
But at least at this point, neither America nor Europe has taken much action. Rohrabacher noted that while America has repeatedly called for a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza, it has not been as vocal against Russia: “We don’t seem to be putting that type of energy into calling for ceasefires and negotiations in Ukraine.”
Earlier today, the European Union adopted stricter sanctions against Russia, and U.S. President Barack Obama announced he also would enforce stricter penalties targeting three banks and a shipbuilder.
Most of the panelists who spoke during today’s hearing agreed Russia should be held responsible, saying President Vladimir Putin is making an effort to regain some of the former Soviet Union’s territory and assets.
For instance, Russian tanks remain in the former Soviet holding of Georgia following a 2008 incursion. Some representatives expressed concern that not enacting tough sanctions now could lead to invasions of other former Soviet countries in the future.
“The world leaders are outraged, but the bear has not stopped,” said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who compared Putin to a ravenous bear that rises out of hibernation to absorb other nations. “The Russians must be made to understand they can’t keep invading other people’s territory.”
Poe asked the panelists what they think Putin’s long-term goal might be. American Enterprise Institute scholar Leon Aron, who grew up in and spoke against Soviet Russia before its downfall, said Putin is pursuing three goals: punishing Ukraine for wanting to join the European Union, trying to establish his bid for the 2018 presidential election, and uniting Russians behind him.
Aron said Putin’s approval rating was low until the Ukrainian invasion. While Putin may push for peace in the face of international resistance, Western apathy may allow Russia to regain de facto control over Ukraine, and possibly other former Soviet countries in the future.
“Victory is the real goal,” Aron said.
Royce passed a House resolution in late March that would support Ukraine, toughen sanctions on Russia, and call for a report investigating how American natural gas imports could help Ukraine remain independent of Russia.
While Royce said western Europe can exact a stronger influence over Russia, Poe called for America to act, too: “The U.S.-West response has been weak, and it’s shown because it hasn’t stopped the aggression.”