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By Deb Fischer
U.S. Senator 

Ukraine Crisis Demands We Reevaluate Our Approach to Dealing with Putin

 

On Thursday, February 24, the world awoke to news that Russia had invaded Ukraine. Vladimir Putin launched attacks from land, air, and sea.

By the next day, Russian forces had reached the outskirts of the capital city of Kyiv, where fierce fighting and heroic Ukrainian resistance continues against all odds.

The scenes coming out of Ukraine are terrifying: newborn babies in need of intensive care moved to makeshift bomb shelters, a Ukrainian kindergarten under attack, and indiscriminate shelling of houses and apartments.

Responsibility for this horrific invasion lies squarely with Putin. Leading up to this crisis, President Biden and the administration offered Russia every opportunity to choose deescalation and peace. Instead, Putin treacherously used diplomacy as a distraction, pretending to seriously engage in negotiations with U.S. and European leaders while he increased his military capabilities and sowed false narratives. In a deliberate message of contempt for the international community, he ordered his invasion to begin while the United Nations Security Council was meeting on the looming crisis.

Innocent Ukrainians are being killed because of a despot’s imperial ambitions. The fundamental principles of security in Europe are in peril.

In response to this invasion, President Biden announced new sanctions against Russia. These measures will affect two of Russia’s largest banks, Sberbank and VTB, as well as 45 of their subsidiaries. Sanctions will also be imposed against three other Russian financial institutions and a number of state-owned enterprises.

The U.S. and our allies and partners from Europe to Asia have also agreed to pursue even more aggressive sanctions against Russia, including beginning to remove certain Russian banks from the global SWIFT financial messaging network. These measures will impose severe costs on the Russian financial sector. Additional measures may be necessary. Putin’s unprecedented aggression demands an unprecedented response.

Democratic governments have also agreed to provide Ukraine with additional defensive assistance. This includes Germany, which has traditionally taken a more positive view of Russia than many of our other European allies.

Germany’s Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has also rightly committed to increase Germany’s defense spending and seriously pursue options to reduce Germany’s reliance on Russia for natural gas. Nearly all the nations of Europe have banned Russian planes from their airspace, further making clear that Putin’s actions are reprehensible.

After near-universal condemnation from the world’s democracies, Putin has turned to nuclear blackmail. He put Russia’s nuclear forces into “special combat readiness” on Sunday, explicitly using Russia’s nuclear deterrent to discourage western nations from supporting Ukraine. This kind of escalation is unthinkable to Americans, but Putin clearly doesn’t see it that way.

The men and women of U.S. Strategic Command, which is based at Offutt Air Force Base, work day and night to deter threats like these.

There’s a reason their motto is “Peace is Our Profession.” And at least five Offutt-based jets from the Air Force’s 55th Wing are flying reconnaissance missions in Europe.

Together, they have flown ten of the 86 missions the U.S. and our NATO allies carried out in the days leading up to Russia’s attack. I was told of these missions during a visit to Offutt on February 25.

In addition to the necessary measures we have implemented so far, I believe the Ukraine crisis demands we fundamentally reevaluate our approach to dealing with Putin. Since he came to power, presidents of both parties have sought to improve relations with him, and too often overlooked his problematic activities to try to achieve this goal. Optimistically, they hoped that U.S. restraint would induce a similar reaction in Moscow. The events of the past week have proven this notion to be a fantasy.

Putin’s naked aggression, his imperial ambition, and his contempt for the international order and basic concepts like sovereignty are undeniable. Global norms and treaty obligations mean nothing to him.

Russia had explicitly sworn to uphold Ukraine’s territorial integrity in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum – one more agreement added to the long list of those Russia has violated under Putin.

He has no credibility, and a cooperative relationship with Russia will not be possible as long as he is in power.

The United States and our allies must proceed with a policy towards Russia that accepts this reality and remains committed to confronting the Russian tyrant’s activities with unity and strength.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process.

 

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