WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama should take actions to show Russia its alleged military advances in Ukraine "come with a price," says a member of two House national security committees.
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, in a telephone interview Thursday evening with CongressWatch, wants Obama to "acknowledge that Russian troops" inside Ukraine "represent an invasion."
A member of the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees, Turner says it's time for Obama to respond to Russian President Vladimir Putin with "a military deterrent."
Administration officials "can make it clear that Russia's actions will come at a price," he said. "I think it needs to be a military deterrent.
"Russia should see they don't have unfettered military reach throughout Europe without there being a credible military response," Turner said. "The fact that [Obama] has almost been so committed to a diplomatic and sanctions regime that he seems blind to the true military actions that are happening."
Turner called for the White House to green-light a "re-commitment of conventional forces and even nuclear weapons" to Russia's backyard.
"At this point, everyone is looking for a credible deterrent," Turner said, adding his "biggest concern" is that Putin believes he can position nuclear-capable weaponry on soil the international community recognizes as Ukrainian.
The lawmaker said he wants Obama to "recognize that Russia is engaged in very provocative actions with their nuclear weapons programs."
Turner and House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., address those alleged actions in a letter sent Thursday to Secretary of State John Kerrry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
"We write to express deep concern about Russia's repeatedly stated position that it has the right — and the intention — to deploy its nuclear weapons in the Ukrainian territory of Crimea," they wrote. "Such provocative and illegal use of its nuclear forces signals a dangerous escalation in Russia's recent aggression and poses a new military threat to US allies and deployed forces in Europe. We believe it is well past time for the US to respond assertively to defend its interests."
Turner and Rogers urged the senior administration officials to "immediately take actions to respond to Russia's threats to European security and to change President Putin's calculus."
"In our opinion, the administration must immediately move to update the US defense policy and force posture in Europe," the lawmakers wrote. "These policies, which have not been updated to reflect that Russia has no interest in being a partner to the West, and, in fact, views the West as a military threat, were naive at inception and are simply dangerous at present.
"One such step should include adding, in Eastern Europe, new sites for the deployment of dual-capable aircraft and forward-deployed nuclear weapons," Turner and Rogers wrote.
Turner spoke to a reporter hours after reports that Obama's former deputy national security adviser and current chief of staff, Denis McDonough, called reports of thousands of Russian troops moving into Ukraine "very worrisome."
"All of this looks and feels an awful lot like, in effect, a Russian activity," McDonough said, according to a transcript released by Politico, which sponsored the event.
"We have been very clear that Russia could also stop this," he said. "And until they do, we'll continue to make clear, in coordination and concert with our friends and allies, that they will continue to pay a pretty dramatic price for conducting behavior like this, which goes to the heart of the basic international bargain and international system, which is sovereigns don't invade sovereigns."
Prior to McDonough's comments, Ukrainian officials claimed an artillery shell killed people in Donetsk amid heavy fighting between their forces and pro-Russian rebels. And there were reports Russian troops had crossed the border into Ukraine.
President Barack Obama and his administration have come under fire from some congressional Republicans since his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening. The members believe he said too little about Russia's action in Ukraine, and was generally too soft on Moscow.
In the prime time speech, the president mostly held up America's actions against Russia as an example of how non-hawkish approaches can yield results.
"We are demonstrating the power of American strength and diplomacy," Obama said Tuesday. "We're upholding the principle that bigger nations can't bully the small — by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine's democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies.
"Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin's aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength," Obama said. , referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters. That's how America leads — not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve."
On Thursday morning, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters he is disappointed and frustrated by what many GOP hawks see as short shrift from Obama on national security issues.
Asked if he has an explanation for the Ukraine situation getting only a paragraph in the speech, Turner replied: "I don't know. I'm at a loss why the president doesn't even acknowledge this as an invasion."