WASHINGTON — U.S. officials warned Sunday against further Russian military aggression into eastern Ukraine as Americans and Western allies prepared to slap more sanctions on Russian officials and to protect the new government in Kiev.
Sanctions could be announced as soon as Monday, officials said, and would send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin after Sunday’s referendum on a Russian-backed proposal to split Crimea from Ukraine. The U.S. rejected the vote and top lawmakers called it a sham.
“We are putting as much pressure on the Russians as we can to do the right thing,” Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser at the White House, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“They know that there are costs to their action here. The costs are economic,” Pfeiffer said. “The more they escalate, the longer this goes, the greater those costs will be.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney issued a statement rejecting Sunday’s referendum in the Crimean region and called Russia’s actions “dangerous and destabilizing.”
Returning Sunday from a bipartisan trip of eight senators to Ukraine, Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., said he expected that on Monday the U.S., joined by Western allies, would impose a “strong set of sanctions” on the Russians.
Already the White House has sought targeted sanctions on Russian individuals responsible for the military incursions now threatening a sovereign Ukraine. Senators also said they expected a $1 billion loan package and sanctions that have stalled in Congress to be approved when lawmakers return at the end of the month.
As Russian-backed military forces surrounded Ukrainian troops in the Crimea, Murphy said the United States will hold Russia “personally responsible” for the well-being of the Ukrainian marines and others.
“I pray to God they don’t open fire,” Murphy said by phone. If Ukrainian troops are harmed, he said, “there’s going to be hell to pay for Russia from the West.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who led the trip with Sen. Richard J. Durbin. D-Ill., said the U.S. needs a “fundamental reassessment” of its relationship with Putin.
“No more reset buttons,” McCain said on CNN. “Treat him for what he is. That does not mean re-ignition of the Cold War, but it does mean treating him in the way that we understand an individual who believes in restoring the old Russian empire.”