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Congress to debate Ukraine aid amid worries about Russian troops

UkraineRussiaPoliticsUkraine Crisis (2013-2014)Vladimir PutinDick Durbin

WASHINGTON — As the Senate prepares to take up an aid package for Ukraine this week, congressional Republicans on Sunday called for stronger sanctions against Moscow amid heightened concerns about a Russian troop movements.

“It's deeply concerning to see the Russian troop buildup along the border,” White House deputy national security advisor Tony Blinken told CNN’s “State of the Union.”'

“It creates the potential for incidents, for instability,'' he continued. “It's likely that what they’re trying to do is intimidate the Ukrainians. It's possible that they're preparing to move in.”

President Obama is due to meet in Europe this week with leaders from the Group of Eight industrialized nations, minus Russia, to consider additional actions in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to annex Crimea.

Blinken defended the sanctions implemented so far. “What we’re seeing every single day is Russia getting more and more isolated and its economy taking a bigger and bigger hit,” he said.

But Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said, “We need to send a message to Vladimir Putin through stronger sanctions.”

“We need him to understand that the sanctions that we put in place could have a significant impact on his economy,” she told CBS' “Face the Nation” from Kiev, Ukraine's capital, after meeting with Ukrainian officials.

“He’s a bully, and bullies only understand when we punch them in the nose,” she said.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also called for stronger action, including supplying small arms to the Ukrainian military.

“There are things that we can do that I think we’re not doing,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“We need to be a little bit tougher with Putin, or he is going to continue to take territory to fulfill what he believes is rightfully Russia,” he said, speaking from Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.

Ukrainians “don’t want U.S. boots on the ground. Neither do I,” Rogers said.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the assistant majority leader, signaled openness to expanding aid to Ukraine, including possibly supplying small arms. “Let’s help the Ukrainian army get on its feet as a self-defense force,” he said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

A House-passed package of up to $1 billion in loan guarantees is before the Senate. Durbin, however, expressed concern about the aid becoming bogged down by partisan fights unrelated to the crisis.

“Let’s not have political intrigue on Capitol Hill undermining our support and our declaration that we stand behind Ukraine,” he said.

Putin signed a treaty to annex Crimea after Russian troops crossed into the peninsula and voters there backed secession from Ukraine in a widely criticized referendum.

richard.simon@latimes.com

Twitter: @richardsimon11

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