Three days after President Barack Obama addressed the nation on the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, several Republican members of Congress are saying Obama should focus sanctions on the man they feel is most responsible for the tragedy: Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At his brief news conference Friday morning, Obama stopped short of saying Russia and Putin were behind the previous day's crash of the civilian airliner by a surface-to-air missile, which took the lives of 298 people. But he did point out that there has been a "steady flow" of Russian weapons to the Russia-aligned separatists in Donetsk — where Flight 17 was shot down — and that Moscow continues to "support the violent separatists" seeking a partition of the eastern portion of Ukraine.
Pending the outcome of an investigation, Obama did not announce any further sanctions against Russia. On Wednesday, the day before the Flight 17 tragedy, the president had expanded sanctions targeting two Russian banks, two energy companies, and defense companies.
"They really have no major impact on Russian businessmen, who can still make contracts with American businesses," Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, told Newsmax. "We need the most severe economic sanctions against Russia that are possible, and we need to work with the European Union to get them to impose severe sanctions. They need to come off their Mercedes-Benzes and start to get off dependence on Russian oil."
Pittenger repeated his call of earlier this year that sanctions against Russia "should be severe enough to create enough turmoil in the Kremlin to convince Putin's colleagues to overthrow him."
The North Carolinian predicted that when the House reconvenes this week, there would be many calls for tougher sanctions against Russians, "and they will have support from Republicans and Democrats, as well."
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also called for sanctions that focus on Putin's assets and for persuading the European Union to take a hard line toward Russia.
"We've got to drag the European Union out of its corner," Kinzinger told Newsmax. "And I like the idea of sanctions that target Putin himself. He's probably one of the richest men in the world, with a lot of hidden assets. So we've got to find those personal assets and freeze them."
On Wednesday, Kinzinger was one of several lawmakers who had private one-on-one meetings in their offices with Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland to discuss the pending Russian sanctions. As he later told Newsmax, "the administration was clearly targeting some of us [in Congress], raucous ones on this issue."
Kinzinger, a U.S. Air Force veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, also called for reinstating the missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland that was started by President George W. Bush but scrapped by Obama.
"We need to arm Ukraine — small arms, heavy arms, and airplanes, along with the technical expertise to train their pilots," he said. "And we need to have a greater sharing of intelligence."
Along with the loss of life from Flight 17, the Illinois lawmaker pointed out that "we also lost some of the top researchers who were going to an international AIDS convention. So science and humanity suffered along with the families of the victims."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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