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Biden Waited Too Long to Act on Russian Buildup at Ukraine Border, US Senators Say


Republican Senator Rob Portman, center, standing with with other senators, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 19, 2022.

A group of Republican U.S. senators called on the Biden administration Wednesday to adopt a tougher response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats to invade Ukraine.

“Historically, wars are easy to start, and they're hard to finish. That's why this threat of sanctions after the fact is not alone enough to deter (Russian President) Vladimir Putin and to prevent him from invading — further invading Ukraine,” Senator John Cornyn said in a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday.

“Neither are the promises of financial assistance to the Ukrainians sufficient to deter Putin. And make no mistake about it — our goal on a bipartisan basis should be to stop Putin and to make him think twice about invading Ukraine,” Cornyn continued.

The group includes Republicans from the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees.

Three of those members — Kevin Cramer, Roger Wicker and Rob Portman — were part of a bipartisan congressional delegation that traveled to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian officials this week to reinforce U.S. support for Ukraine and its defensive needs.

A bipartisan group of senators also met virtually with President Biden Wednesday morning to discuss U.S. policy in Ukraine. In a readout of the meeting released afterward, the White House said, “President Biden commended the strong history of support for Ukraine from both sides of the aisle, and agreed to keep working closely with Congress as the Administration prepares to impose significant consequences in response to further Russian aggression against Ukraine.”

Russia has anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 troops on the Ukraine border, according to U.S. estimates. Earlier this week, Russia withdrew personnel from its embassy in Kyiv, a possible sign an invasion may be imminent. Several rounds of talks in Brussels between Russia, the U.S. and its European allies stalled last week, with the U.S. and its allies refusing to guarantee that Ukraine will never be allowed to join the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who was also on the trip, told reporters Monday after the lawmakers met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that the United States was ready to impose economic sanctions on Russia and provide additional arms to Ukraine.

But Republicans said the failure last week of Senator Ted Cruz’s legislation sanctioning the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was a major setback to deterring Putin from invading Ukraine. The bill failed to reach the 60-vote threshold last Thursday, with a vote of 55-44.

“This was actually a gift to Putin — their actions,” Republican Senator Joni Ernst said, describing the largely Democratic vote against the bill. “Allowing the completion of the Nord Stream pipeline gives Russia a very powerful means to isolate our democratic partner Ukraine. It's more of the Biden foreign policy doctrine which is appeasement of our adversaries. And I've consistently urged the Biden administration to prevent completion of Nord Stream 2 and actively support and bolster Ukraine's military.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio introduced legislation in December that if passed would provide weaponry, training and more than $450 million in military aid to Ukraine and designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism if it carried out the invasion.

“President Biden’s willingness to make concessions to Putin not only endangers Ukrainians, but also welcomes the Kremlin’s aggression in the region at large. Unfortunately, this pattern of appeasement isn’t new — it’s the same failed strategy used by the Obama administration,” Rubio said when introducing the Guaranteeing Ukraine’s Autonomy by Reinforcing its Defense Act.

Democrats introduced their own response to the Russian troop buildup earlier this year, with the Defending Ukraine Sovereignty Act of 2022. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez, co-sponsor of the bill, said, “This legislation makes it absolutely clear that the U.S. Senate will not stand idly by as the Kremlin threatens a re-invasion of Ukraine.”

If passed, the bill would immediately trigger financial sanctions on Russia upon its invasion of Ukraine, including sanctioning the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The Democrats’ bill would also authorize $500 million in emergency security assistance to Ukraine.

Republican Senator Kevin Cramer said he would be open to compromise legislation to get the Senate to act quickly in response to the Russian buildup.

He added, “While we certainly have some honest policy disagreements, particularly with regard to the Nord Stream sanctions, that should not be mistaken by Vladimir Putin or Russia as disunity in our resolve to stand with the people of Ukraine and to stand with freedom.”