Conservatives Question Obama's Ukraine Stance: 'Playing With Weak Hand'

Friday, 28 Feb 2014 07:52 PM

By Todd Beamon and Newsmax Wires

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Image: Conservatives Question Obama's Ukraine Stance: 'Playing With Weak Hand'
Russian armored personnel carriers on the side of the road near Bakhchisarai, Ukraine on Friday. (AP)
President Barack Obama's warning to Russia that "there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine" proves that "the president's playing with a weak hand," former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra told Newsmax on Friday.

"The president talked about 'there will be costs,'" Hoekstra said in an exclusive interview. "He didn't say what those would be. What does this mean? Where does it go?"

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"There's not a whole lot the United States can do."

Pro-Russian forces tightened their grip on airports and strategic sites on Ukraine's Crimea peninsula Friday despite Obama warning Moscow not to intervene.

Heavily armed troops in uniforms with no national insignia took up positions around government buildings and the airport in Simferopol, as Ukrainian officials accused Russia of "naked aggression."

Sen. John McCain charged that Russian President Vladimir Putin "has not had a great deal of respect for President Obama — and they've had a very chilly relationship.

"Putin has made it clear many times that he will restore the way of Russia, and Ukraine is the crown jewel," the Arizona Republican, a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CNN.

"When Putin sees the President of the United States say that we will act if you cross a red line and we don’t … I think Vladimir Putin, the former KGB operative that he is, does not have a belief that the penalty for this behavior will be very severe."

Hokestra and McCain were among many Republicans who slammed President Obama's foreign policy, charging that it has left the United States on the sidelines as Russia takes a stronger role in quelling the continuing unrest in Ukraine.

At the White House on Friday, Obama called for an immediate international mediation mission to the Crimea and urged Russia to pull back military forces from the region.

"We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine," Obama said.

"Any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing," the president said. "The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine."

Obama's remarks came after news reports that Russian military forces, which the United States believed to be land forces, arrived by air at a Russian base in Crimea.

"What we're seeing now is Vladimir Putin's commitment and absolute belief that Ukraine's part of Russia — and he's not going to let it go," McCain told CNN. "That is something that they are going to have to understand in our relations with Vladimir Putin."

The senator noted that Russian troops have taken over two Ukrainian airports.

"It's not going to be Russian tanks. It's going to be Russian special forces, special operations, who will be essentially taking over the country."

But later Friday CNN showed photographs of Russian tanks near the Ukraine city of Sevastopol. Also, The Associated Press reported a convoy of nine Russian armored personnel carriers and a truck on a road between Sevastopol and the regional capital, Simferopol.

"Putin at this point holds all the high cards — and all we have from the president is rhetoric," former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton told Greta Van Susteren on her Fox News program.

Bolton noted especially that Obama did not mention the U.S. when he said, "Any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia, or Europe."

"He didn't mention the United States," Bolton told Van Susteren. "It suggests that the United States has no interests in the Ukraine — and that's all Putin wanted to hear."

Ukraine's interim president Oleksandr Turchynov, who took power after Russian-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych fled last week, directly addressed the Kremlin leader from Kiev.

"I personally appeal to President Putin to immediately stop military provocation and to withdraw from the Autonomous Republic of Crimea... It's a naked aggression against Ukraine," he said.

A spokesman for Russia's Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet denied its forces were involved, but uniformed men with assault rifles, body armour and helmets were in evidence around Simferopol.

They sealed off the airport, where civilian flights were halted, and set up barricades to protect Crimea's autonomous government.

House Speaker John Boehner said that the Obama administration's "acquiescence and, in some cases, silence in the face of Russia’s systemic and persistent meddling in the affairs of its neighbors … would embolden Russia to take additional and escalatory aggressive action. Those fears have been confirmed today.

"Both the administration and the European Union have a responsibility to work together to maximize the economic and political pressure on Russia to withdraw its troops and work in a constructive manner to promote an inclusive government in Ukraine and to stabilize the Ukrainian economy," Boehner, the Ohio Republican, said in a statement.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia called for "strong American and European leadership now to forestall any further threats to international peace and stability."

Syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer said he was stunned by the underwhelming nature of Obama's words.

“The Ukrainians, and, I think, everybody is shocked by the weakness of Obama’s statement," Krauthammer said Friday on Fox's "Special Report with Bret Baier."

"I find it rather staggering.”

He added the response also implied "we're not really going to do anything" about the upheaval.

"[The president] said, any violation of Ukrainian territory is destabilizing, and that's not in Russia's interest," Krauthammer said. "He is instructing Putin on what's in Russia's interest?"

"I can assure you, Putin has calculated his own interests, and he's calculated that detaching Crimea from Ukraine and making it, essentially, a colony of Russia, is in Russia's interest -- because he knows he has nothing to fear from the West, because it's not led by anybody. It used to be led by the United States."

But that's long been the problem — no leadership from the United States or Europe — said Hokestra, who served eight terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before leaving office to run unsuccessfully for Michigan governor in 2010.

"Who are you going to provide the economic sanctions to? To Russia?" he asked in his Newsmax interview. "There's not a lot the United States can do.

"These things play out over time. The Ukraine has been working on these issues for a number of months. Europe — and, in many cases the United States — has been missing in action.

"You get to this point, but there's very little right now that Europe or the United States can do."

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