U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday rebuffed calls to immediately impose economic sanctions on Russia over escalating tensions with Ukraine.
In an interview on CNN, Blinken said: "When it comes to sanctions, the purpose of those sanctions is to deter Russian aggression. And so if they are triggered now, you lose the deterrent effect."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told the Washington Post last week he supported imposing sanctions now, a view endorsed by Republican lawmakers on Sunday.
Among them is Senator Joni Ernst, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who told ABC News the U.S. needs to be “very aggressive” in its efforts to prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from ordering an attack on Ukraine.
“Let's make sure that we are pushing back right now with stiff sanctions, making sure that we are showing Putin we do mean business."
"But I am gravely concerned that Putin will show once again aggression in Europe...."
Democratic Senator Chris Coons, an ally of President Joe Biden, argued for passing bipartisan legislation to impose some sanctions now, but said it was best to keep the strongest sanctions in reserve.
"I do think we should take up and pass a bipartisan bill that will show, resolve and determination and apply some sanctions now. But the very strongest sanctions - the sorts of sanctions that we use to bring Iran to the table - is something that we should hold out as a deterrent to prevent Putin from taking the last step of invading Ukraine."
The United Kingdom has also threatened Russia with sanctions after it accused the Kremlin of seeking to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine.
But that would-be leader – former Ukrainian lawmaker Yevhen Murayev– derided the allegation in an interview with Reuters and said he was considering legal action against what he called a “conspiracy theory.”
“I was laughing all evening when journalists from American outlets and TV channels started calling.”
Despite its heavy troop presence at the Ukrainian border, Russia has denied plans to invade, but has pressed for security guarantees, including a block on Ukraine from joining the NATO alliance