Obama ‘Doesn’t Understand’ Putin, McCain Tells Senate

Photograph by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Troops under Russian command ordered to turn back before firing weapons into the air at an approaching group of over 100 unarmed Ukrainian troops at the Belbek airbase on March 4, 2014 in Lubimovka, Ukraine.

Ukraine — and Vladimir Putin’s strategy there — opens yet another rift in Washington.

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who traveled to Ukraine with Sen. John McCain of Arizona and met with former President Viktor Yanukovych before that government’s fatal attack on protesters, called on the Senate today to provide “serious” financial support for Ukraine’s new government. The $1 billion in aid announced by Secretary of State John Kerry today is “a good start,” Murphy said in remarks on the Senate floor today.

“This is not a schoolyard, you don’t get to push around weaker kids just because you don’t like them,” the Democrat said of Russia’s response to the turnover of Ukraine’s government. “Like the schoolyard bully,” Murphy said of Russian President Vladimir Putin, “he doesn’t see beyond his own nose.”

Congress should authorize “broad sanctions” against Russia, he said — “a clear message of consequences.” It the Russian “aggression” in Ukraine “goes unchecked,” he said, NATO allies could be threatened in the future.

“There doesn’t seem to be any difference between what the Republicans want (President Barack Obama) to do and what he is doing,” Murphy said.

McCain, who accused the Obama administration of a “feckless foreign policy” yesterday in an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, suggested there is less accord here about Ukraine and Russia.

“This president does not understand Vladimir Putin,” McCain told the Senate today. It was Putin who bemoaned the fall of the Soviet Union, McCain said. “This president has never understood it…. This president believes the Cold War is over. Vladimir Putin doesn’t believe the Cold War is over.”

McCain called Putin’s denial of an invasion of Crimea “a return to the old Russian Soviet doublespeak.” He quoted Putin today as calling the apparent Russian troops in Crimea “local self-defense units.”

“This is the same guy that the president of the United States pushed the `reset button’ time and again with,” said McCain, who challenged Obama for the presidency in 2008.  “After five years of believing that somehow Vladimir Putin was anything other than what he is, we are now paying the piper. The chickens are coming home to roost.”

Clearly, U.S. aid is warranted, McCain agreed, and military action is not.

Russia should be booted from the Group of Eight industrial nations, he said, and the U.S. should reinstate the missile defenses and radar it wanted to build in Poland and the Czech Republic.

“It’s time we woke about Vladimir Putin,” he said. “It’s time this administration got real.”

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