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In Washington, Spotlight Shifts to European Response to Malaysian Airliner Shootdown

Jul. 22, 2014 - 07:57PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is one of the senior US lawmakers calling for European powers to hold Russia accountable after the downing of a civilian airliner over eastern Ukraine last week. (Brendan Smialowski/ / AFP)
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Rep. Ed Royce / Courtesy


WASHINGTON — Senior US lawmakers are increasingly saying European powers must act to punish Russia for its role in the shootdown of a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane in eastern Ukraine.

The United States and other Western countries say evidence shows Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine shot down Malaysian Airlines flight 17 last Thursday over largely Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory. The attack came one day after the Obama administration enacted stiff sanctions on Russian businesses and banks, including its defense sector.

GOP lawmakers responded to the incident with harsh criticism of US President Barack Obama, whom they believe has been too light-handed on the global stage. They want him to arm Ukraine’s military forces with offensive weaponry and continue to ramp up pressure on Putin, which they contend will cause him to remove his forces from Ukrainian soil.

“They could utilize American support and assistance as they try to impact and lessen what really is an international crisis of a war zone opening up in Europe,” House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said last week.

“I think in addition to the issue of looking to arms for Ukraine … the US has high fidelity as to what is occurring in this area. This information should be shared with Ukraine so they can defend themselves,” Turner told Bloomberg television.

“And, also, Vladimir Putin needs to be held accountable. This plane came down as a result of Vladimir Putin deciding that he was going to open a war zone in Europe. He needs to pay a price for that and certainly all of our allies need to come together jointly.”

But nearly one week later, senior US lawmakers, joined by influential former officials, are increasing their calls for America’s European allies to finally take steps that will get Putin’s attention.

House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Tuesday morning said US officials essentially are “on a path where we’ll see how Europe will weigh in.

“Because of the invasion or the aggressiveness of Russia, of Putin in ... eastern Ukraine, the president has taken the lead on sanctions in the area,” Pelosi said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“Just even a day before all of this, he had ... increased the sanctions … in the hope that the Europeans would enthusiastically follow suit,” she said.

Pelosi used a term, “sector sanctions,” to describe what US officials want their European colleagues to enact.

That emerging buzzword promises to play a prominent role in how US officials intend to drive an international policy response to the alleged shootdown by the Moscow-backed separatists of the Malaysian passenger jet. To be sure, Pelosi was not the only senior US lawmaker to use the term on Tuesday morning.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said Tuesday he wants the Obama administration to use the situation to “take the lead” on crafting with European allies “sector sanctions on Russia.”

On Monday, there were similar bipartisan calls for European nations to step up and rattle Putin’s cage.

“I think the problem is Europe,” House Appropriations Defense subcommittee member Rep. James Moran, D-Va., said during a television interview. “Where is Europe on this?

“I mean, Russia sells its natural resources to Europe. Europe sends the money to the Russian oligarchs. They then invest it in Europe and then Europe feels that it can’t act against Russia,” Moran said, summarizing the deep economic relationships that link countries like France and Germany to Russia — and complicate US efforts to pressure Paris and Berlin to act.

“The Western powers are going to have to get together and take stronger action,” the veteran lawmaker concluded.

One rising Republican star, House Foreign Affairs Committee member Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said “the French ought to take … a leadership role and say, ‘The hundreds of Russian soldiers in our country right now being trained on this, they’re going home and the Russians are not getting this ship.”

He was referring to a French-made warship that Moscow is under contract to purchase from a French firm.

Kinzinger acknowledged that pushing the French government to kill the warship deal would trigger “an economic impact” in France. But he said “it’s the right thing to do” because “it’ll send a strong message.”

The lawmakers’ European press is being echoed by former US diplomatic and military officials.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright calls it “stunning” that Europe “has moved so slowly” on responding to Russia’s invasion and contested annexation of part of Ukraine, as well as the airliner shootdown.

Frustration in Washington with European leaders was, perhaps, best summed up on Friday by retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who said bluntly during a television interview: “Where are the British? Where are the French? Where are the Germans?” ■


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