By Martin Matishak - 08/31/14 10:01 AM EDT
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sunday said the U.S. and its allies should provide lethal aid to Ukraine’s military, calling Russia’s recent incursions into the country an “invasion.”
“This is a watershed moment,” Sen. Robert MenendezRobert MenendezOvernight Finance: Trump threatens NAFTA withdrawal | Senate poised for crucial Puerto Rico vote | Ryan calls for UK trade deal | Senate Dems block Zika funding deal Menendez rails against Puerto Rico bill for 4 hours on floor Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate narrowly rejects expanding FBI surveillance powers MORE (D-N.J.) said during an interview from the capital city of Kiev on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Thousands of Russian troops are here … and they are directly engaged in an invasion.”
President Obama has been reluctant to provide even defensive weapons to Ukraine’s military, believing Kiev had the capabilities to fight pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.
Menendez said that while that may have been the president’s “initial assessment,” circumstances on the ground today are “dramatically different.”
“This is no longer the question of rebel separatists, this is an invasion,” according to Menendez, who is on a trip through Estonia, Poland and Ukraine.
The senior lawmaker late Saturday fired off a letter to the administration, urging it to change its stance and to get NATO allies onboard with a such a strategy when the countries meet this week in Wales.
Menendez said that providing defensive equipment to Ukraine's military “may very well be on the table right now” within the administration due to the “changed circumstances.”
He dismissed concerns that such action would provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin into greater military against Kiev, saying the Kremlin only responded to Western weakness and leaders could change their aggressive stance once soldiers start “coming back in body bags.”
Menendez ruled out the possibility of sending in U.S. or NATO troops to face Russian forces, calling instead for “sectoral sanctions” against Moscow’s financial services, defense and energy sectors.
European Union leaders said late Saturday they could unveil additional sanctions against Moscow this week.
Menendez warned that the U.S response to the ongoing crisis is being watched closely by others countries, such as Iran and North Korea.
“This is a test,” he said.