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Top GOP senator tells Obama to send 'clear message' to Putin on Ukraine

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Feb. 23, 2014: Activists in Independence Square, the epicenter of Ukraine's recent unrest, Ukraine. (AP)

A top Senate Republican told President Obama on Sunday to “send a clear message” to Russia President Vladimir Putin to stay out of Ukraine’s political crisis, renewing criticism about the president’s foreign policy and his negotiations with the powerful Russian leader.

“Now that the Olympics are over we need to warn Russia” not to interfere, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told “Fox News Sunday.” “We need to send a clear message.”

The months of political upheaval in Ukraine have divided some residents between aligning with Russia or Western nations, a situation now being portrayed as a de facto power struggle between Obama and Putin, who appear on opposite sides of several world issues, including the Syria crisis.

Obama vowed in June 2010 to “reset” relations with Russia in an effort to help solve international problems and improve the world economy. But four years later, little appears to have improved.

Critics of the Obama administration's foreign policy say Putin has had the upper hand in efforts to end the Syrian civil war because Russia is a major ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which has allowed him to remain in power and keep a large part of his chemical weapons cache.

Such critics are also bristling over Putin allowing former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked U.S. government secrets, to live in Russia.

“It’s time to reset the reset,” Ayotte said, arguing Obama must be “unequivocal” in his demands.

Still, Obama said the situation in Ukraine is about residents being able to make decisions for themselves and that it was “not some Cold War chessboard."

This weekend, the Ukraine parliament declared President Yanukovych unable to carry out constitutional duties.

The country's western regions, angered by corruption in Yanukovych's government, want to be closer to the European Union and have rejected Yanukovych's authority in many cities. Eastern Ukraine, which accounts for the bulk of the nation's economic output, favors closer ties with Russia and has largely supported the president.

The protest movement was prompted by the president's decision to abort an agreement with the EU in favor of a deal with Moscow.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ind., the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, defended Obama, saying he, like every new U.S. president, has tried to negotiate with Putin, who has been a threat for many decades.

He also told “Fox News” the administration will have a challenging time in Ukraine because Russia has the “trump card” of supplying the country with natural gas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.