March 29 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. should consider forcing major American companies such as General Electric and Exxon Mobil to suspend business in or pull out of Russia if President Vladimir Putin attempts to take more territory from Ukraine or other neighboring nations, said Senator John McCain of Arizona.
“I know that that’s a tough call and I know that we don’t want to hurt our own economy, but what are the consequences of Vladimir Putin just being able to act?” McCain, a Republican from Arizona who advocates military assistance for Ukraine, said in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend.
Such a move likely would come through formal sanctions rather than political pressure on individual corporations, McCain said, and “would only be considered” if Putin “went much further.”
In addition to GE and Exxon-Mobil Corp., the companies with the largest business interest in Russia include Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and PepsiCo Inc.
Putin, who annexed Crimea from Ukraine earlier this month, has amassed tens of thousands of troops along the border, which McCain says indicates Russia may strike soon.
“If you’d asked me three or four days ago, I’d have said I believe not -- now I’m not sure,” he said. “You don’t keep troops massed on the border of a country for no reason.”
President Barack Obama and Putin had an hour-long telephone conversation yesterday on the crisis, and the leaders dispatched their top diplomats to conduct further discussions.
Obama told Putin that a diplomatic solution “remains possible only if Russia pulls back its troops and does not take any steps to further violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” the White House said.
Putin highlighted a “rampage of extremists” intimidating officials and residents “in various regions,” according to a statement from his office.
The Russian leader may be considering moving into Moldova to cut off Ukrainian access to the Black Sea, McCain said.
Because Moldova is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a U.S.-led NATO force response there would be “very questionable,” he said.
“I doubt if the Europeans frankly would agree to it,” McCain said.
The NATO-member Baltic states are a different matter, said the lawmaker who was his party’s nominee for president in 2008. If Putin moved on to Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, he said, “I just can’t believe we wouldn’t have some kind of military response.”
McCain reiterated his call for the U.S. to provide the Ukrainians with weapons to defend themselves. “Symbolically it means so much,” he said, and a lack of military assistance may encourage Putin “to exercise further adventurism.”
The U.S. and its European allies have warned Russia it may face further sanctions, including in the banking and energy sectors, if Putin doesn’t heed Obama’s calls to pull back.
The U.S. and European Union already have imposed asset freezes and travel bans on individual Russians and Ukrainians, including businessmen associated with Putin. One Russian bank also has been sanctioned by the U.S.
The U.S. “did not get much” out of Obama’s efforts to rally European allies and other countries more forcefully against Russia this week at a nuclear security summit and NATO meeting, McCain said.
Europeans still lack the will to take more drastic measures, he said, because of “their dependence on energy, everything about their attitudes now, their slashes of their defense spending.”
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