White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer said that the Obama administration hopes economic pressures will force the Russians to vacate Ukraine posthaste.
“The Russian economy, the Russian stock market, and the ruble are at 5-year lows. Russia is isolated in the world, you saw that at the UN Security Counsel yesterday, and the more they escalate, the longer this goes, the greater those costs will be,” Pfeiffer said.
Pfeiffer initially stumbled over host David Gregory’s question, who had asked, “Is Crimea lost at this point?”
Crimea voted Sunday on a referendum that would either make the region a part of Russia or create an independent state. Ninety-three percent of voters chose to join Russia, a figure that immediately aroused suspicion.
Before the results were known, Pfeiffer denounced the vote as illegal and reiterated the president’s commitment to Ukraine. Meanwhile, lawmakers discussed the consequences of the referendum vote and the U.S. role in the region going forward.
“I think as soon as we get back to Washington, you'll see the Senate and the House pass an economic aid package, along with sanctions … there are a lot of ways that we can assist in the resistance. I'm not sure that we're to the point of providing arms, but they need all sorts of non-lethal assistance, like MREs, that we can put on the ground,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) on ABC’s “This Week.”
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) appeared to call for stronger assistance, saying on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the United States needs to “get some military assistance to Ukrainians, at least so they can defend themselves.”
“President Putin has started a game of Russian roulette,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“I think that the United States and the West have to be very clear in their response, because he will calculate about how far he can g," Menendez said. "That means having very robust sanctions ready to go, starting with the Crimea vote, and moving onward depending on Russia's continued actions after the Crimea vote.”
Menendez’s committee on Wednesday voted 14-3 in favor of legislation to “impose strict sanctions on Russians involved in Moscow's intervention in Ukraine, provide aid to the new government in Kiev, and implement reforms of the International Monetary Fund.”
Pfeiffer said the White House was calling on Congress to pass that bill.
“We are working with our partners around the world, the Europeans in particular, to marshal forces against Russia and put pressure on them in the form of sanctions," Pfieffer said. "The president has signed an executive order… and you can expect sanction designations in the coming days.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney previously told reporters that the referendum “will not be viewed by the United States as legitimate because it is inconsistent with the Ukrainian constitution, which makes clear that any change in Ukraine’s borders has to be decided by all of Ukraine.”
Ukraine has said they will not remove troops from Crimea, regardless of the outcome of the vote. Tensions escalated further Saturday as the Russian military landed in mainland Ukraine.
Murphy, who just returned from Ukraine, noted, “I don't think that Putin's ambition is Crimea here. Ultimately, his ambition is to try to keep control of the entirety of Ukraine … I think he may stop after this referendum and try to negotiate something with Ukraine that would pull them away from the European Union.”
However, that is not something Ukraine appears to be considering.
“In every single meeting that we did while we were on the ground in the last few days,” Murphy said. “There is no appetite from the new Ukrainian government to do a deal with Russia that forestalls their plan to join the European Union.”
On Sunday, Reuters reported that Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reached an agreement “to seek a solution to crisis in Ukraine by pushing for constitutional reforms there.”
Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.) expressed caution on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“We've seen this movie before. We should be cautious. I want to know exactly what was offered in exchange," Rogers said. "Right now Russia is feeling a unique set of pressures other than international community. It's their economy starting to suffer.”
“If this was just to buy Russians time I'm concerned about it," he said. "If this was truly an effort to allow the referendum to happen, which is what I think the Russians are doing so that they have the strength and negotiation with the government of Ukraine, that's whole different story. The United States needs to take a pretty strong stand in relationship with our EU partners, now would be the time to try to ramp some of that up as we get to those discussions. If we don’t it’s the relief on the pressure that the Russians need to continue to solidify their hold on the Crimean peninsula.”