Republicans: Obama must show leadership in Ukraine crisis

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US lawmakers demanded on Friday that President Barack Obama show strong leadership and take swift action against Moscow in response to the downing of a passenger jet over Ukrainian territory.

Mr Obama accused the Kremlin of fomenting violence in eastern Ukraine and providing pro-Russian separatists with “sophisticated equipment” such as the surface-to-air missile used to shoot down the Malaysia Airlines plane, but he stopped short of accusing Russia of direct involvement in Thursday’s attack, which killed all 298 people aboard.

As the administration weighs what to do, lawmakers have been urging Mr Obama to get tough – not just on the plane disaster but in the broader Ukraine crisis, ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran and Israel-Gaza violence.

“We need more leadership from the president,” Republican congressman Peter King told MSNBC television.

“It’s important for the president to step up today and mobilize Western support as far as economic sanctions” on Russia, he added on CNN.

Mr King said the United States should “consider taking away landing rights to our airports and Western airports” as a symbolic but also very real economic measure against Moscow.

Senator John McCain said that while a full investigation has yet to be conducted, Russian culpability was clear.

“We have sufficient information to know that responsibility for this heinous international crime rests, in large part, with Russian President Vladimir Putin,” Mr McCain said in a statement.

He said Washington should deliver a multi-pronged response in the form of military assistance to Ukraine, “true sectoral sanctions on key Russian industries,” a boosted Nato military presence in eastern Europe, and exposure of Russian human rights abusers and corrupt officials.

Earlier, Mr McCain had blasted the Obama administration as “cowardly,” and criticised the president for attending two Democratic fundraisers in New York late Thursday instead of focusing on the international crisis.

Adam Kinzinger, a Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Fox News that Mr Obama needs to be “very clear-eyed” about the Russian threat and “call Putin out by name.”

“I hope President Obama shows the same moral leadership today that President (Ronald) Reagan showed in 1983,” Mr Kinzinger said, referring to Reagan’s blistering speech four days after a Soviet fighter jet shot down a Korean Airlines passenger plane that strayed into Soviet air space.

“Putin has not been challenged as he should be,” added House Republican Robert Pittenger on Twitter.

“Obama announced limited sanctions, we need severe sanctions.” Senator Lindsey Graham said years of weak Obama diplomacy and passive responses to crises like Syria have emboldened the world’s aggressors.

“I’m not blaming the United States for shooting down the airplane,” Mr Graham said Thursday.

“I’m saying that the foreign policy of President Obama is allowing conflicts to grow in scope and nature, and that the longer these things go the more people get drawn in.”