NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Two prominent U.S. senators are calling for a tougher reaction to Russia over its activities in Ukraine, including the provision of weapons to Kiev.

Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said after meeting with leaders and locals, there’s no doubt Russia has invaded Ukraine.

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Menendez said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s use of the word “statehood” while talking about the separatist regions was telling.

“It shows his state of mind, he believes this is the new Russia,” Menendez, who is in Kiev, told 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon.

Menendez said Russia needs to face more economic consequences for its actions and is calling on President Barack Obama to get NATO members on board with stronger sanctions for Russia.

“This is a moment in which weakness is more provocative to Putin than strength,” Menendez said.

He warned that with tougher sanctions “not only will we not stop his vision from being pursued, but also we will send a global message that aggression pays off and that the international order can be violated with consequences.”

Menendez also wants to provide the Ukranian armed forces with defensive weapons.

“If you have night vision goggles that’s great to see your enemy but if you can’t do anything to stop them that doesn’t help you very much,” Menendez said.

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Sen. John McCain said that if unchecked in Ukraine, Russia could begin to threaten other nations in Eastern Europe, including Moldova and the Baltic states, former Soviet republics. McCain denied that providing weapons to Ukraine could make things worse.

“For God’s sake, can’t we help these people defend themselves? This is not an incursion, this is an invasion,” McCain said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Give them the weapons they need, give them the wherewithal they need, give them the ability to fight. They will fight.”

Meanwhile, pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine are backing away from their demand for full independence. At the start of negotiations in Belarus, the rebels say they will respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, in exchange for autonomy.

It’s a shift that reflects Moscow’s desire to strike a deal at a new round of peace talks — possibly avoiding tougher Western sanctions. The talks follow last week’s meeting between the presidents of Russia and Ukraine. Similar talks earlier this summer produced no visible results.

And even as the talks began, the rebels pushed Ukrainian government forces from an airport near the second-largest rebel-held city. It’s the latest in a series of military gains by the rebels.

The talks involve only eastern Ukraine. There are no negotiations on handing back Crimea — the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed in March. That cost Ukraine several major ports and half of its coastline.

Monday’s talks lasted for several hours, before being adjourned until Friday.

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