Republicans call Biden’s sanctions on Russia weak after Moscow invades Ukraine

Republicans call Biden’s sanctions on Russia weak after Moscow invades Ukraine

Congressional Republicans blistered President Biden Tuesday for a weak and belated response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while Democratic lawmakers who spoke up were supportive of the president’s economic sanctions on Moscow.

Republican lawmakers said Mr. Biden’s decision to impose economic penalties on Russia comes too late. They argued that if the White House were serious about deterring Russian President Vladimir Putin’s partition of eastern Ukraine, Mr. Biden should have acted sooner.

“Putin’s invasion should be met with unified opposition by the United States and our allies — ensuring the consequences are equal in measure to the offense,” said Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican. “Unfortunately, for the second time in less than a year, the Biden administration’s weakness on the world stage has emboldened our adversaries.”

Mr. Biden announced Tuesday that the U.S. is imposing sanctions on two Russian banks, as well as targeting wealthy oligarchs close to Mr. Putin. He said Germany has blocked the completion of a Russian natural-gas pipeline, and he warned that more penalties are coming.

Democrats defended Mr. Biden’s approach, saying it strikes the appropriate balance between combatting Russian aggression while being cognizant of America’s place in the international community.

“I support [the president] imposing sanctions for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat. “Together with our NATO allies and international partners, the United States should continue using all diplomatic, political, and economic tools to stop further Russian aggression against the Ukrainian people.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Illinois Democrat, said the president “and his entire administration have worked exhaustively to coordinate an extensive sanctions regime with our allies and partners to prepare for this.” 

“I’m glad Germany has put a stop to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and I fully support the additional sanctions President Biden announced today for Russia’s malign actions,” she said.

But Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Mr. Biden’s sanctions “incremental” and said the measures won’t deter Mr. Putin’s forces from “trying to install a puppet government in Kyiv.”

“We need to get the Ukrainians more weapons,” Mr. Sasse said. “We should be doing gun runs around the clock to arm the Ukrainian people to the teeth. Our goal should be pretty simple: Help the Ukrainian resistance hold on for as long as possible. Make Putin regret his flagrant disregard for the rule of law.”

Republicans say the president’s response is insufficient to deter further Russian aggression, especially since prior sanctions imposed in 2014 on Mr. Putin’s regime have done little to block his territorial ambitions.

“President Biden promised a ‘swift and severe’ response. He did not deliver,” said Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration. “Ukraine is a test of western resolve. It’s a major leadership moment for Biden. So far, he’s failing.”

Republicans also criticized Mr. Biden for remaining open to pursuing a diplomatic solution with Mr. Putin, who is accused of numerous human rights violations over his decadeslong tenure in the Kremlin.

“Biden is letting Vladimir Putin call the shots,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican.

GOP lawmakers, in particular, have decried the administration’s decision to wave sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline into Germany, which they say gave Russia outsized influence over the European energy market and allowed the Kremlin to weaponize energy to strong-arm its geopolitical rivals in the region.

Republicans have made several bids to reimpose sanctions on the pipeline, to no avail. As tensions between Russia and Ukraine began to build, GOP lawmakers pointed to the pipeline as a key source of leverage for the Kremlin.

On Tuesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz halted the final certification process for the pipeline, and during his speech, Mr. Biden reaffirmed his vow to end the pipeline once and for all.

But Mr. Biden’s decision to greenlight the pipeline last summer has continued to haunt him, and it emerged Tuesday as a key point of criticism following his speech.

“Make no mistake, Biden should not have allowed NordStream 2 to move forward in the first place. It emboldened Putin and put our national security at risk,” said Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican, on Twitter Tuesday.

Republicans also say the administration has been slow to act when signs emerged of a Russian troop buildup along its border with Ukraine.

“Sadly, President Biden consistently chose appeasement, and his tough talk on Russia was never followed by strong action,” House Republicans said in a statement. “Lethal aid was slow-walked, anti-air and anti-ship capabilities were never directly provided, pre-invasion sanctions proportionate to the aggression Putin had already committed were never imposed, and sanctions on Nord Stream 2 were waived.”

Congress failed to pass a package of concrete penalties aimed at the Kremlin after negotiations ground to a halt over competing proposals. Negotiations between the two parties broke down largely over the timing of when sanctions would take place.

Republicans insisted that Russia should face severe consequences before an invasion, while Democrats’ original proposal was to guarantee a bevy of sanctions after an attack.

The Senate instead settled last week on a nonbinding resolution affirming U.S. solidarity with Ukraine and condemning Russian aggression in a last-ditch rebuke of the Kremlin as lawmakers departed for a week-long state work period.

But after the Kremlin’s advances into Ukraine early this week, both parties generally agreed that the president should take a tough stance immediately.

“I think we can stop equivocating as to whether we have an invasion or not. I think the west — the United States — has to make it very clear to Putin that the consequences begin now,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, told CNN Tuesday.

During a White House address on Tuesday, Mr. Biden sought to strike a hard line with Russia.

“Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belongs to his neighbors,” said Mr. Biden. “This is a flagrant violation of international law and demands a firm response from the international community.”

The White House has announced it will target two of the country’s largest financial institutions. Administration officials say the sanctions will target Russia’s domestic economy, which is increasingly reliant upon its fossil fuel exports.

“These [sanctions] have been closely coordinated with our allies and partners and we will continue to escalate sanctions if Russia escalates,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Biden has also proposed to block Russia from being able to access Western financing to ensure the timely repayment of its global debt. The decision will prohibit Mr. Putin’s government from being able to trade on its debt in U.S. and European markets.