Ohio Sen. Portman wants Trump, Congress to get tougher on Russia

Sen. Rob Portman (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Sen. Rob Portman (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Sen. Rob Portman called on Congress and the Trump administration to adopt even tougher economic sanctions against Russia, saying current restrictions have not convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin to abandon his support for pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine and yield control of Crimea.

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During an interview Sunday on “NBC’s Meet The Press,” Portman, R-Ohio, said while the sanctions against Russia may have been effective enough to “get the Kremlin’s attention,” he said “they obviously have not resulted in the kind of actions and reactions that we would expect.”

“The better way to approach this is to actually go after folks in Russia who are influential, including some of the oligarchs who support President Putin,” Portman said.

Portman is one of a number of Senate Republicans who have supported tougher economic sanctions in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, its backing of Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, and support for what Portman called the “murderous” regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

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While distancing himself from President Donald Trump’s effort to accommodate Putin at this month’s Helsinki summit, Portman said the Trump administration has adopted the toughest policies against Russia since the Cold War.

Portman said the administration has provided weapons to Ukraine and conducted military exercises in Eastern Europe which is “not making the Kremlin happy.”

“There are concerns, as I expressed after Helsinki, of an inconsistent public posture as to Russia, but in terms of policy, I think the administration is doing things that are appropriate and very tough,” Portman said.

Portman said “we don’t know what happened” when Trump met privately with Putin without the participation of his top foreign policy advisers, adding he does not “know whether to be happy or not.”

“My concern was about the public statements not being consistent and clear with our policies,” Portman said.

Portman said “talks” with Putin “are appropriate,” but in a veiled criticism of Trump he said “you need to be prepared for them.” Trump has often been criticized for not thoroughly preparing himself to meet foreign leaders.

“We are two superpowers and have nuclear weapons and need to talk,” Portman said.

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