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U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed the global consequences of Vladimir Putin’s unjustified war against Ukraine. Thune noted that while this is Ukraine’s fight, the United States and allies must provide weapons and humanitarian assistance as well as impose swift and severe sanctions against Russia.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, over the past week the world has watched in horror as once again an imperialist Russia sets its sights on a sovereign nation in Eastern Europe.
“Vladimir Putin’s unjustified – and unjustifiable – war of aggression has already left hundreds dead and created a massive refugee crisis as noncombatants flee Russian attacks.
“At this minute, Russia continues to press forward with attacks on several fronts, with a focus on the capital city of Kyiv.
“But courageous Ukrainian resistance, both from its formal military and from an increasing number of civilians, is slowing Russia.
“Kyiv and other major cities remain under significant pressure and could fall within days, but Ukraine is demonstrating a fierce resolve and continuing to blunt Russian advances.
“Russia has also been a victim of its own deficiencies, such as poor targeting, broken supply lines, and a limited ability to fight at night.
“And surprisingly, Russia has not yet established full air superiority, with some Ukrainian jets still flying and some surface-to-air systems still available.
“This means Ukraine can still fly combat sorties and strike back against Russia.
“Similarly, Ukrainian command, control, and communications appear to be intact.
“How long these conditions can last, however, is an open question, which underscores the urgent need to continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons it needs to stay in this fight – and to bring the free nations of the world together to sanction and isolate Russia for its unjustifiable aggression.
“This is Ukraine’s fight, but the U.S. and allies can provide weapons and humanitarian assistance while imposing swift and severe sanctions against Russia.
“We must also shore up NATO to send a signal to Putin that the U.S. will make good on our defense commitments.
“This is essential not only to help prevent this war from spreading further into Eastern Europe, but to send a message to China that similar acts of aggression will not be tolerated.
“We know Taiwan remains in the crosshairs of President Xi, and just as Putin is flexing his power in Europe, Communist China is looking for any opening to pounce.
“Mr. President, many pundits have speculated about Putin’s mindset and ultimate goal with this attack, and how far he will be willing to go despite mounting losses.
“I think it’s clear he’s willing to take it to the next level.
“We should be concerned that as Russia continues to meet heavy resistance, Putin will order his generals to increase pressure, no matter the cost.
“This means no matter the cost to his own troops, many of them young soldiers and conscripts, and no matter the cost to the Ukrainian people.
“Putin’s failures in Ukraine and mounting international pressure may also spur Putin to escalate beyond Ukraine and lash out against the West.
“He’s already ordered his nuclear forces on high alert, yet another unprovoked escalation that has drawn immediate condemnation.
“The U.S. and other free nations must match the resolve of the Ukrainian people and respond with swift and severe consequences for Putin and his cronies.
“The people of Ukraine have shown their fierce determination to fight, drawing inspiration from emerging stories of heroism.
“A reported ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ fighter pilot has allegedly scored six kills against Russian jets.
“It may only be an urban legend, but it has captured Ukraine’s underdog grit nonetheless.
“Ukrainian border guards on a remote island in the Black Sea refused to surrender to the Russian Navy in a defiant radio transmission.
“A Ukrainian soldier sacrificed himself on Friday by manually detonating charges to collapse a bridge when there was not enough time to detonate them remotely before a Russian column closed in.
“A Ukrainian woman defiantly addressed Russian occupiers, offering them sunflower seeds and telling them to put the seeds in their pockets so that sunflowers will grow when they die in Ukraine.
“Ukraine has handed out over 18,000 weapons to reservists around Kyiv, with social media posts showing men and women lining up to volunteer.
“Ukrainian Parliament member Kira Rudik is taking up arms, hoping to inspire other women to join the resistance.
“Ukrainian media is broadcasting instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails to attack Russian vehicles.
“And then there is President Zelensky, who has led Ukrainians with extraordinary resolution and courage.
“President Zelensky is believed to be Putin’s top target, and there are reports of Russian forces being sent into Ukraine for the express purpose of assassinating Ukraine’s president.
“Yet according to press reports, when he was offered the chance to evacuate, Zelensky said, ‘The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.’
“Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has also been visible in Kyiv, saying Ukraine will resist ‘forever,’ when asked how long the nation can hold out.
“Ukraine’s resolve has been on display for the world to see, as have Vladimir Putin’s true colors.
“Putin was given every chance to choose diplomacy and peace.
“Instead, he chose war.
“Putin has offered wild justifications for his attack, suggesting that Ukraine somehow posed a nuclear threat to Russia and is governed by neo-Nazis and drug addicts.
“He has also called for Ukrainian soldiers to defect and “take power into their own hands.”
“It may be that Russia is laying the groundwork for a narrative that there is an organic pro-Russian contingent within Ukraine, possibly within the Ukrainian military itself, to be stood up as an “authentic” coup to carry out regime change.
“Putin has also claimed that the Ukrainian military is moving equipment into residential neighborhoods, which would be consistent with a resistance or insurgency defensive posture, but will also give Russia pretext to increase civilian targeting.
“Mr. President, Vladimir Putin is apparently on a delirious quest to restore the Soviet Union and once again see Ukraine under Russia’s thumb.
“Unfortunately for him, he apparently reckoned without the people of Ukraine.
“And each missile that strikes a village, every rocket that strikes an apartment building, every tank that rattles by a once-quiet town will only further stoke Ukrainians’ resentment of the Kremlin.
“Judging by the way Ukrainians are fighting, I don’t think they will ever accept Russian rule.
“And as the growing number of Russians boldly protesting in the streets from Moscow to St Petersburg to Siberia – and online – are making clear, Putin is also losing the trust of everyday Russians – particularly of the younger generations, whom he’s likely leaning on for conscripts and who will inherit a decimated economy.
“Even the daughter of Putin’s own spokesman posted on Instagram ‘No to war!,’ which went viral before it was deleted.
“Russian protests have spread to more than 50 cities – and, in keeping with his KGB past, Putin’s response has been to detain protesters and restrict access to Facebook and Twitter.
“Unfortunately for him, however, it’s become clear that he will not be able to fully hide the truth from the Russian people.
“Russians are clearly coming to know Putin as a murderous warmonger who will isolate them from the free world.
“Mr. President, it’s unfortunate that the world did not take a more aggressive stance against Vladimir Putin before he invaded the sovereign nation of Ukraine.
“I supported sanctions against Nord Stream 2 and the other punitive measures of the NYET Act before Russia made its attack, and it’s too bad it took Putin actually going to war for the world to get serious about checking Russian aggression.
“However, I am pleased that the United States and our partners are finally moving forward with unprecedented sanctions against Russia’s economy.
“The U.S. is sanctioning Russia’s central bank and freezing its assets in the United States.
“And a growing number of nations are uniting to block Russia from the SWIFT financial transaction messaging system.
“If blocked from this system, Russia will have to conduct run-of-the-mill banking transactions directly between banks, adding costly delays that should discourage any business with their banks.
“Putin has also joined the select list of despots like Kim Jong-Un individually sanctioned by the United States.
“But while I’m glad we have taken these steps, there is more we can and should do, including directly targeting the lifeblood of the Russian economy, Russia’s energy sector.
“Every dollar the world denies Putin by not buying his oil and gas is one less dollar he has to spend on his war of aggression in Ukraine.
“The conflict in Ukraine is also a timely reminder that energy independence is not only economic security, but national security, and that here in the United States we need to do everything we can to get our energy producers off the bench and into the game, so that we don’t have to rely on foreign regimes for energy supplies.
“This situation is also a reminder of how important it is to make a robust investment in our own military to restore our nation’s readiness.
“The Vladimir Putins of this world will only respond to strength, and we need to ensure that our nation’s military is prepared to meet threats from traditional state actors as well as terrorist organizations.
“When it comes to dictators like Putin, the best way to secure peace is through robust deterrence.
“As Congress reviews the administration’s supplemental request for foreign security and humanitarian assistance, we cannot offset this funding by degrading our own defense.
“This is a military emergency – just ask the people of Ukraine – and we should treat it as such.
“I hope Congress will come to a sensible solution in the days and weeks ahead.
“Mr. President, my thoughts and prayers today are with the people of Ukraine.
“I hope they know that their courage and determination have inspired millions.
“And I pray that the United States – and freedom-loving countries the world over – will continue to do our part by providing the lethal aid Ukrainians need to stay in this fight, and by implementing biting sanctions that will leave Putin and his cronies out in the cold.
“Mr. President, I yield the floor.