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'Let's Get Putin Out of Russia,' Says House Terrorism Panel Chair

By John Gizzi   |   Wednesday, 05 Mar 2014 11:54 AM

Image: 'Let's Get Putin Out of Russia,' Says House Terrorism Panel Chair
Rep. Robert Pittenger, chairman of a House terrorism panel, calls for Draconian economic sanctions by the United States and fellow Western powers to drive Russian President Vladimir Putin from power after Russia's military action in Crimea.

"If we can't get Russia out of Ukraine, then let's get Putin out of Russia," Pittenger, chairman of the House Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, told Newsmax.

In an exclusive interview, the freshman North Carolina Republican said, "If Russia is going to re-establish itself as an aggressor, we can't be the Chamberlain," referring to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who supported appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s.

"We have to deal with the problem head on," said Pittenger, who recently became chairman of the special panel dealing with international terrorism.

Pittenger said that means using economic force against Russia and encouraging other Western nations to do the same.

"Perhaps that will get Mr. Putin's colleagues in the Kremlin upset enough to convince him to change his policies, or failing that, to depose him," he said.

Pittenger said Congress must invoke and widely apply the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act.

Signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2012, the human rights act was designed to freeze bank accounts and assets of 18 people said to be involved in the still unexplained death of Hermitage Fund lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Having testified that top Russian police officials had embezzled $230 million in taxes that Hermitage Fund companies had paid, Magnitsky was arrested in Moscow in 2008 and charged with tax evasion. He died under mysterious circumstances before his scheduled trial in 2009.

Noting that the scope of the act was later extended to other Russians not connected to Magnitsky's death, Pittenger said it should now be applied "to top officials and the oligarchy in Russia. Let's get them yelling at Putin."

Pittenger also endorses the idea of European countries joining in the same effort that was spelled out last year in the book, "Why the EU Needs a Magnitsky Law," edited by Russian-born journalist and Radio France Internationale broadcaster Elena Servettaz.

During a book tour in Washington last fall, Servettaz said that people who contributed essays to her book "from countries as diverse as the United States, Canada, Norway, Estonia, Lithuania, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and so on, who did not even know Sergei Magnitsky, started to fight in his name, offered hope to people like me that change was finally at hand."

Pittenger strongly seconded Servettaz's view and feels an EU version of the Magnitsky Act would squeeze Putin even harder.

Along with broad use of the Magnitsky Act, Pittenger supports strong trade restrictions that "will create distractions for the Putin government" and "encourage our allies to kick Russia out of major trade organizations such as the G-8 and the World Trade Organization."

"Whatever disrupts Russian society at this time, we should support," he said.

While not directly criticizing Obama, Pittenger nevertheless said the White House should seek out some "older, wiser hands" who might have a better idea of how to deal with Putin than current officials.

He specifically suggested former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former CIA Director James Woolsey — "by far, one of the brightest people I have met."

Pittenger emphasized, "The economy is the best weapon with which to stabilize the crisis in Ukraine. And it is critical now to use economic weapons against Russia — and Vladimir Putin."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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