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Republicans get hawkish on Putin, as Gates predicts Crimea will be lost to Russia

Washington Republicans and military experts on Sunday suggested a range of plans to stop Russia’s effort to annex Ukraine’s Crimea region, while former Defense Secretary Robert Gates predicted such efforts might already be a lost cause.

"You think Crimea's gone?" “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace asked.

"I do," Gates replied. "I do not believe that Crimea will slip out of Russia's hand."

Gates also said the taking of Crimea appears to be part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s long-term strategy of creating a “Russian bloc” that includes full control of Ukraine, which last month ousted its pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Still, Republicans appeared ready to punish Putin into withdrawing troops from the Crimea region and ending his plans to annex the region.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan urged the Obama administration and Congress to target Russian companies or “oligarchs” connected to Putin by trying to go after their offshore assets and limiting their international travel.

“We should consider targeting some of the oligarchs around him that are his enablers and he is their enablers,” the Wisconsin Republican told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

He agreed with Gates that now is not the time to cut the Pentagon budget, as President Obama has proposed. And he joined in the largely Republican-led call for the administration to speed up the process for U.S. companies to export liquefied natural gas to western and central Europe, which depends on Russia for their supply.

Former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney suggested the most hawkish approach, a range of military moves including Obama reinstating the United States’ missile-defense programs in Poland and the Czech Republic. He also suggested joint training exercises in Poland and offering military assistance to the Ukraine government.  

He and Ryan agreed that Obama should reconsider missile defense in Europe.

Putin is trying to take control of Crimea and annex the region as the Crimean parliament prepares a vote on whether to join Russia.

He has been criticized by Western leaders, including Obama, who talked to him twice by phone, arguing his efforts in Crimea violate Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Putin has said as recently as Sunday that Ukraine's new leaders seized power through an unconstitutional armed coup and that Russia has the right to invade Ukraine to protect Russians living in that former Soviet republic.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., told ABC’s “This Week” that Obama should not underestimate Putin’s ego.  

“He wants to be a world influence, and if he has to do it through brute force, he’s going to do it,” he said. “We shouldn’t underestimate the kinds of things that he will do that he thinks is in Russia’s best interest.”

He also said the crisis will lead to international economic instability.

“So we do need to be worried,” Rogers said.

This story based on wire service reports.