Tensions have emerged in the U.S. Congressional leadership over how soon, if at all, to impose sanctions against Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis. While House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, favors imposing sanctions immediately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, says the United States must gain the support of the international community before imposing sanctions.
Speaking to the Cincinnati Enquirer on Monday, Boehner called Russian President Vladimir Putin “a thug” and claimed that it was “time to stand up to Putin” by imposing sanctions on Russia.
“At what point do you say enough is enough?” Boehner asked the paper. “We are at that point.”
Boehner may be ready to launch sanctions against Russia almost immediately, but Reid seems far more hesitant about taking direct action against Russia. The Senate Majority Leader spoke to Politico in the Capitol on Monday and stressed the importance of involving the European Union and other European nations in any actions the United States takes.
“The most important thing is for us -- the United States -- to make sure that we don’t go off without the European community,” Reid told Politico on Monday. “We have to work with them. Their interests are really paramount if we are going to do sanctions of some kind. We have to have them on board with us.”
Reid also added that Congressional deadlock has worsened to the point that it may be impossible to push out an agreement.
“We couldn’t do congressional action if we wanted, we can’t get in the damn building,” Reid said. “I think we should just play this out for a while.”
Congressional activity might be out of the picture for Reid at the moment, but the U.S. could still possibly freeze Russian bank accounts as a punitive measure -- with the agreement of the European Union, of course, Reid added. Reid also slipped and referred to Russia as “the Soviet Union” during the exchange.
“We can pretty much control banking, which is so important to the Soviet Un -- to the Russians,” Reid said. “How soon we forget, huh?”
Secretary of State John Kerry has also touted the idea of freezing Russian bank accounts, bringing up the possibility on NBC Sunday night.
“There could even be ultimately asset freezes, visa bans,” Kerry said. “There could be certainly a disruption of any of the normal trade routine, and there could be business drawback on investment in the country. The ruble is already going down and feeling the impact of this.”
Though Reid and Kerry see freezing bank accounts as a likely option for the European Union and the United States, those inside the EU may be less likely to crack down on Russia. An anonymous adviser to the European People’s Party, a group of moderate political parties represented in the European Parliament, explained to Buzzfeed that EU policymakers are not currently discussing freezing bank accounts.
“I think what they’re talking about are sanctions along the lines decided three weeks ago vis-a-vis the Ukrainian government,” the adviser told Buzzfeed. “I don’t think they’re talking about freezing accounts at this moment. I don’t see a decision on that today.”