He noted that President Obama already has signed an executive order authorizing additional sanctions against specific sectors of the Russian economy. But, Corker added, “I don’t think Putin believes we’re really going to punish them in that way.
“We keep waiting to see what their next step is,” Corker told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “As I’ve said before, our foreign policy is always a day late and a dollar short because we’re reacting.”
Punitive measures that have been taken to date include visa bans and asset freezes on senior Russian and Crimean figures, including some in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, and sanctions against a key Russian bank.
Putin himself has not been targeted, and that looks unlikely to change.
Corker said unless Putin immediately withdraws the 40,000 Russian troops that are “intimidating” the Ukrainian people, “I really do believe we should be sanctioning some of the companies in the energy sector, Gazprom and others. I think that we should hit some of the large banks there, and certainly we should beef up our security relationships with Ukraine.” He said the U.S. should help Ukraine strengthen its military.
“I think we're going to lose eastern Ukraine if we continue as we are, and I think it's going to be a geopolitical disaster if that occurs.”
Obama telling Putin, ‘don’t embarrass us’
According to Corker, the Obama administration should follow through on its threat of sectoral sanctions, because it’s the only thing that Putin will respond to. But instead, the U.S. is giving Putin what he wants, with one condition:
“I think the administration has -- is basically saying to Russia: Look, don't do anything overt, don't come across the border with 40,000 troops, don't embarrass us in that way, but you can continue to undermine the sovereignty of Ukraine by doing the things that you've done.
“And again, I've urged in every way that I can for this administration to go ahead, and again, push back now. It's going to be too late, just like -- just like we did in Syria, where in essence, let's face it, the wisest thing -- I hate to say such a crass thing on Easter Sunday morning -- the wisest thing that Assad did really was to kill 1,200 people with chemical weapons, because in essence we said don't embarrass us anymore that way. You can go ahead and kill another 60,000 people with barrel bombs and another -- by other means, but don't embarrass us.
“And I think that's what we're saying to Russia today by the actions that we're not taking: Don't embarrass us, but you can continue the black ops activities, you can continue the other things that you're doing.”
Back on March 6, State Department spokesman Jen Psaki explained that sanctioning a head of state such as Putin “would be a significant step, and it is not what we are leading with here in this process.”
More than a month later, after the Crimean referendum, subsequent Russian annexation, the buildup of Russian forced near Ukraine’s border, and the alleged Russian destabilization efforts in eastern Ukraine, Putin remains off the sanctions target list.
On Friday Psaki confirmed that was the case – and even suggested that the Russian president was not among those whose conduct has been “unhelpful.”
In response to a question about whether the administration would reconsider its position on not sanctioning Putin personally, Psaki said, “there are a range of individuals – not President Putin – who have been engaged in this process in an unhelpful way, who have been helping the illegal activities, who have been providing financial support. There’s a range that are not yet sanctioned, but certainly we continue to look at. We have the ability through the executive order to also put in place sectoral sanctions, but it hasn’t changed that we’re not leading with the sanctioning of the leader of a country.”
“So is it fair to say he’s off the table for now?” a reporter pressed, to which Psaki replied, “I don’t have any new update to tell you. Just to convey that there are dozens of individuals who have played unhelpful roles who we could certainly sanction if warranted.”