Senate

Lawmakers fear Ukraine could spiral into US-Russian war

Democrats and Republican in Congress are deeply worried about the spiraling Russian war with Ukraine, fearing it could eventually draw the U.S. into a direct conflict with Russian troops.  

Lawmakers in both parties say they support President Biden’s decision to draw the line at putting U.S. troops on the ground in Ukraine or enforcing a no-fly zone over the country, fearing that such moves could spark a much bigger war.  

“This is the most dangerous moment since the Cuban missile crisis,” warned Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee.  

“We have never been this close to direct conflict with Russia,” added Murphy, who along with other senators wants to quash calls for U.S. fighter jets to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine to stop the bombing of Ukrainian defense forces and civilians.  

He noted that the United States never directly and openly supported insurgents who battled with Soviet troops in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan in the 1950s, 1960s and 1980s. Murphy also emphasized that U.S. support for mujahedeen soldiers who successfully fought off a Soviet invasion in Afghanistan was done covertly through the CIA.  

“We made the right decision to openly support the Ukrainians, but we just should understand the unprecedented moment that we’re living in today where we’re openly funding war against a nuclear power,” he said.  

Murphy made his comments shortly before Congress passed $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine. Roughly half that amount will go to the Pentagon to replace equipment that has already been sent to Ukrainian forces.  

The aid package passed the Senate by a vote of 68 to 31 and the House by a vote of 361 to 69, but lawmakers who voted for it admitted that they are nonetheless nervous about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s potential reaction.  

Democratic and Republican senators believe Putin has become increasingly erratic and unpredictable and worry that he is now surrounded by advisers who aren’t willing to oppose reckless decisions.  

Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) said he was among those worried the conflict could escalate to a fight between U.S. and Russian forces. 

“Of course, of course, is there anybody in this building who’s not concerned about that? Because if there is, there’s going to be a recall effort,” he said.  

“It’s a delicate, delicate dance. You’ve got to really be thoughtful because the man we’re dealing with doesn’t appear to be the same person we were dealing with five years ago,” he said, referring to Putin. “And I’m not sure I’ve heard anybody who feels confident that they can predict what his response will be to any action we may take.

“We’ve got to be very, very careful,” he added.

The fighting came closer to NATO forces stationed in Poland over the weekend when Russian missiles struck a military facility in western Ukraine about 15 miles from the Polish-Ukrainian border, killing 35 people and injuring more than 130.  

Republican leaders have loudly criticized President Biden’s handling of many issues, foreign and domestic, including his reluctance to beef up sanctions on Russia before the invasion. But they solidly support his decision to keep U.S. troops out of direct conflict.  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday that he doesn’t see a role for U.S. fighter jets in Ukrainian airspace.  

“There are a number of ways to potentially have an impact in the sky. Stingers, drones and airplanes — and we just discussed the possibility of getting these Russian-era MiGs out of Poland and into Ukraine,” he said, referring to a proposal to send U.S. aircraft to Poland to replace Soviet-era fighters sent to Ukraine.

“But I don’t think any NATO country, certainly not ours, is prepared to directly engage with Russians over Ukraine,” he cautioned.  

Some prominent defense policy thinkers have advocated for NATO allies enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, including Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss.), who is poised to become the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the former chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee and a former member of the Armed Services panel.  

“The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s refusal to give Ukraine no-fly protection from the continuing, indiscriminate and inhumane Russian attacks from the air is strategically weak and morally wrong,” Lieberman wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed.  

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures” that he would support declaring a no-fly zone over Ukraine if Russian forces use chemical weapons. 

Other senators, however, say fear of escalating the conflict is a major reason why the Biden administration backed away from a plan to replace MiG-29 fighter jets sent by Poland to Ukraine with U.S. jets.    

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday the transfer was deemed too “high-risk.” 

He said the intelligence community advised it “could result in significant Russian reaction that might increase the prospects of military escalation with NATO.”  

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) warned the war in Ukraine could easily blow up into a much bigger war.  

“I, like most people here, fortunately, don’t want to have U.S. troops directly involved and will do everything to oppose that,” he said.  

“There’s always a danger of escalating it,” he said. “The main thing is that we need to be very conscious that rational, sound voices are thinking through what we do before we do it. 

“I would say the rhetoric on television and amongst a lot of members of Congress is overly emotional and not soundly reasoned and thoughtful. That’s what you require if you don’t want to get into a world war,” he added.   

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a senior member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said the situation is scary because Putin is so unpredictable.  

He said direct hostilities between U.S. and Russian forces “is what everyone wants to avoid.” 

“That is the danger, that’s what everybody’s concerned about,” he added.  

Johnson, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations panel’s Europe and Regional Security Cooperation Subcommittee, said European ambassadors were shocked and surprised by Putin’s brazen invasion.  

“Talking to the ambassadors from countries in that region, to an ambassador, none of them thought he would do this,” he said. “They were so thoroughly convinced because it just makes no sense. 

Johnson said Putin’s inner circle of advisers has been winnowed down to a coterie of “yes men” who “gave him way to rosy a scenario” about the success of the invasion.   

“When Putin starts talking about nuclear weapons and putting his nuclear forces on a level of higher alert, it scares the you-know-what out of people,” he said.  

The American Federation of Scientists estimates that Russia has 5,977 nuclear warheads in its arsenal.   

Tags 2022 midterms Chris Murphy conflict Joe Biden John Hickenlooper John Kirby lawmakers Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Rand Paul Roger Wicker Ron Johnson Russia Russia Ukraine Ukraine Vladimir Putin War

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