Washington: US Republican lawmakers urged tougher sanctions on Moscow Sunday after a Malaysian jet crash in Ukraine was blamed on Russian-backed separatists, with one congressman even bringing the World Cup into play.
Referring to Thursday`s disaster as a game-changer, the lawmakers also took President Barack Obama to task for what they described as a lukewarm and cautious response to Moscow`s apparent support for the militants.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was blown out of the sky Thursday by what is believed to have been a surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board.
In what is the most unequivocal statement yet incriminating Russia in the incident, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the missile system was "transferred from Russia in the hands of separatists."
Congressman Peter King, a member of both the House Homeland Security and Intelligence committees, said stepped up sanctions against Russia in the wake of the tragedy should be economic but also symbolic in nature.
"We should talk about the World Cup. Why should countries be going to Moscow?" King told CBS television`s "Face the Nation" talkshow.
Russia is due to host the 2018 rendition of the massive soccer tournament -- seen as the country`s most ambitious project since the fall of the Soviet Union -- with President Vladimir Putin recently vowing it would be "an unforgettable football feast."
Representative Mike McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called for the lifting of a ban on US crude oil exports, saying he has introduced a bill to that effect.
"Sanctions will only work if they`re tough enough to deter conduct and I don`t believe right now they are tough enough, and they don`t hit the energy sector as hard" as they could be, he told CNN`s "State of the Union."
"The president of the United States is in the position to stop this. He needs to be a leader."
McCaul`s lashing of Obama was echoed by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers.
"Phone calls with Putin, that`s all wonderful. This is as serious as it gets. They just massacred 290 some civilians," he said on ABC`s "This Week."
"It`s time to end Putin`s gamesmanship in Ukraine. It means the United States needs to end its tepid response."
In particular, Rogers said Washington needed to "be aggressive in our help for the Ukrainian military. Not boots on the ground. But training, intelligence... and at the same time, we need to continue to ramp up sanctions."
On Wednesday, the eve of MH17`s downing, the United States and Europe significantly strengthened sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine, with Washington for the first time directly targeting Russia`s banking, military and energy sectors.