Shocked by the apparent shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over eastern Ukraine, lawmakers said Thursday they were ready to toughen U.S. sanctions against Russia if evidence shows their intervention in the conflict played a role in the deadly attack.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the air disaster a “game changer.”
He and other defense hawks said that if Russians are involved, the international community should impose tougher sanctions and arm the Ukrainian military.
“You would take the sanctions we’ve unilaterally imposed, toughen them, and have the world get behind them, and start arming the Ukrainian military,” he said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, emerged from a closed briefing with no new information on whether Russia was involved or Americans were on the plane.
But she said, “If evidence emerges that Russia was involved, that would obviously be extremely concerning. Even before today’s events it was clear that Russia was escalating its support for the separatists, which is obviously very concerning. Russia-based separatists have shot down more than a dozen planes, helicopters in Ukraine over the past few months.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said if Russia's involvement is proven, the U.S. must respond.
“The separatists could only have gotten that capability from Russia,” McCain said. “So therefore the culpable party here is Vladimir Putin. What gives credence to that theory is, in the last couple weeks, the, quote, separatists have shot down several aircraft, including a transport aircraft that was flying at 21,000 feet. So they have a record in recent days of shooting down Ukrainian aircraft.”
“For us not to react in a more stringent fashion would be terrible,” McCain said.