Putin Risks Political and Economic Isolation with the West over Ukraine
Policy + Politics

Putin Risks Political and Economic Isolation with the West over Ukraine

REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday called on Congress to pass a package of financial aid for the struggling government of Ukraine, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of the country’s strategically important Crimean peninsula last week. Kerry also began outlining the punitive measures being considered by the administration in consultation with allies in Europe and around the world.

He portrayed Putin as out of step with the modern world, and acting out of desperation as he sees Russia’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe deteriorating.

Related: Obama Can’t Stop Putin’s Push into Ukraine

“President Putin is not operating from a place of strength here,” Kerry said on Meet the Press, pointing out that Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovych, driven from office by a popular uprising, “was thrown out despite Putin’s support.”

The invasion of the Crimean peninsula, Kerry said, “is a 19th century act in the 21st century, which really puts at question Russia’s capacity to be within the G8,” Kerry said on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, referring to the forum for leaders of the largest developed economies. He said that he had spoken to ten different foreign ministers, including all the other members of the G8, and reported that all were ready to “go to the hilt” on economic and diplomatic sanctions.

One of the likeliest first steps appears to be boycotting the scheduled meeting of the G8 being hosted by Putin in Sochi, and possibly removing Russia from the group entirely. “He’s not going to have a Sochi G8,” Kerry said on Meet the Press. “He may not even be in the G8.”

In a new development announced late Sunday afternoon, the Secretary of State will now travel to Kiev on Tuesday, in a show of support for the new Ukranian government, Politico has reported.

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Kerry’s appearance Sunday morning came after a week in which the fast-moving story in the Ukraine has dominated headlines. Popular protests in the capital city of Kiev drove Yanukovych from power and the Ukrainian parliament voted to strip him of his authority. Yanukovych fled to Russia, and within a week, Russian troops had invaded, claiming that they were there to protect the ethnic Russians who make up a large part of the region’s population.

Appearing on most of the major Sunday morning political talk shows, Kerry began outlining specifics behind the promise made by President Obama on Friday that “there will be costs” for any Russian violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. At the same time, he took pains to cast the Unites States’ efforts as being part of a joint response to Russia by the developed world – not unilateral U.S. action.

Kerry said that the in addition to providing support for the Ukrainian government, the U.S. is in talks with allies over punitive measures to take against Russia, including removing Russia from the prestigious G-8 group, freezing Russian assets, instituting travel bans by declining to issue visas. 

Related: The Two Ukraines Portend a Disastrous Possibility

In an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, Yuriy Sergeyev, Ukrainian ambassador to the United Nations said that his nation needs military support. Indeed, the Ukrainian government has called on all able-bodied men under 40 to be prepared to be called up to fight, should Russia move out of the Crimea and into other parts of Ukraine.

However, Kerry and other U.S. officials played down the possibility of U.S. military involvement.

“There’s not a lot of options candidly, and I’m a pretty hawkish guy,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), head of the House Intelligence Committee. “Sending more naval forces to operate in the Black Sea is really not a good idea given that we know that day has long passed. Unless you’re intending to use them, I wouldn’t send them. And so you’ve now got only economic options and we should use them.”

Rogers echoed a common Republican complaint that President Obama has not dealt firmly enough with Russia.

Related: On the Brink of War, Ukraine Urges Putin to Withdraw

“Putin is playing chess and we are playing marbles,” he said, claiming that Russia had the upper hand in negotiations over nuclear weapons and the conflict in Syria.  

Other Republicans took the opportunity of an international crisis to publicly criticize President Obama.

Addressing his remarks to Obama on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, “Stop going on television and trying to threaten thugs and dictators. It is not your strong suit. Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anybody like Putin, everybody’s eyes roll, including mine.

“We have a weak and indecisive president and that invites aggression. President Obama needs to do something. How about this: suspend Russian membership in the G-8 and the G-20, at least for a year starting right now, and for every day they stay in the Crimea add to the suspension. Do something.”

Related: Ukraine’s “Eastern Spring” Has a Chance to Blossom

Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, of Maryland, criticized other lawmakers “knee-jerk” attacks on the president, saying, “We’re 48 hours into an international crisis…We need to stand together on this.”

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, made his best effort to have it both ways, saying, “I think our policy toward Russia under this administration deserves a heavy amount of criticism,” but quickly adding, “I usually shy away from that in moments of crisis when it’s important for the nation to speak with one voice.”

This article was updated on March 2, 2014, at 6:15 p.m.

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