• AFP-Jiji


A group of U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday called for pre-emptive sanctions on Russia and expanded arms shipments to Ukraine, fearing that action so far may not dissuade Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading.

After a weekend visit to Ukraine, the three lawmakers — all military veterans — said they were convinced Putin was serious about an attack, as tens of thousands of troops amassed near the Ukrainian border.

“We need to be more concerned about deterring Putin than provoking him,” Rep. Seth Moulton, a Democrat, told reporters.

“If Putin invades, I want him to know that he’ll have trouble buying a soda from a vending machine in the next five minutes, not that NATO will convene a conference to debate what to do next over the ensuing several weeks.”

U.S. President Joe Biden in a telephone call with Putin last week warned that Russia will face sanctions “like none he’s ever seen” if Moscow invades Ukraine, which has already been battling pro-Russian separatists.

Rep. Mike Waltz, a Republican, said the United States should already be imposing sanctions over destabilization.

“I think promising tough action… after an invasion will do very little in terms of Putin’s calculus,” Waltz said.

He urged the Biden administration to cut through red tape and immediately deliver weapons to Ukraine, including air defense missiles.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat, said Ukraine can deter Putin by convincing him “that an invasion would be bloody and it will be long and protracted.”

“It will be an existential threat to his leadership if he has a massive loss of that kind,” Gallego added.

Like Biden, the lawmakers ruled out deployment of U.S. troops.

Putin has ramped up pressure on Ukraine since a 2014 uprising ousted a president who had resisted calls to orient the nation closer to the West.

The U.S. and its allies have for weeks accused Russia of planning an invasion of its neighbor, warning of a massive coordinated sanctions response should Putin launch an attack.

Tens of thousands of Russian troops are stationed near the borders of ex-Soviet Ukraine, where the West has accused the Kremlin of backing pro-Moscow separatists since 2014.

In a phone call with the Finnish president — whose country has traditionally served as middle ground between Russia and the West — Putin said he wanted security talks to begin without delay.

He told Finnish President Sauli Niinsto that Moscow wants “to immediately launch negotiations with the United States and NATO in order to develop international legal guarantees for the security of our country,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

Russia’s demands, it said, included stopping NATO from expanding east and the deployment of weapons in neighboring states, including Ukraine.

Putin reiterated the same demands in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron later on Tuesday.

In his call with the Finnish president, Putin also accused the Ukrainian leadership of increasingly using “heavy weapons and attack drones” against pro-Russia rebels in its separatist east.

The Russian leader denies planning an invasion, blaming the Western security alliance for the rise in tensions and demanding “legal guarantees” the alliance won’t expand eastwards.

The EU and the Group of Seven met in recent days to coordinate what they warn would be an unprecedented economic sanctions regime if Russia attacks.

Putin’s comments come a day after Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov warned Moscow could act militarily if the talks it demands do not materialize.

“The lack of progress towards a political-diplomatic solution to this problem will lead to the fact that we will respond militarily,” Ryabkov told the RIA Novosti state news agency.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also told his new German counterpart Annalena Baerbock Tuesday of the “necessity to provide our country with security guarantees” against NATO expansion, Moscow said.

Berlin holds one of the most important cards in the sanctions deck, if it decides that Putin’s actions warrant blocking the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

Tensions continued to soar Tuesday, with Russia saying it was monitoring a French warship near its borders in the Black Sea.

Putin has accused the West of provoking tensions in the Black Sea — a sensitive region for Russia, which controls the Crimean peninsula after annexing it from Ukraine in 2014.

Kiev has been fighting a pro-Russia insurgency in its eastern regions since the annexation. The conflict has claimed more than 13,000 lives.

The U.S. sent its top diplomat Karen Donfried — Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European Affairs — on a trip to Kiev, Moscow and EU capital Brussels amid rising tensions this week.

“Our aim is to support Ukraine as we work to de-escalate tensions due to Russia’s build-up,” Donfried said in Kiev Tuesday, where she began her tour.

She is expected in Moscow Wednesday.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, accused Kiev’s ally Germany of blocking supply of NATO weapons to the country.

“Germany has recently prevented us from getting anti-drone rifles and anti-sniper systems from NATO, which are exclusively defense tools,” Zelensky said in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica published Tuesday.

“Don’t we have the right to have them in the eighth year of the war? Obviously, we do,” he added.

A spokesperson for the German foreign ministry said Monday that it could not comment “on the confidential decisions at the heart of the (NATO) alliance at this stage.”

Kiev’s use of Turkish-made Bayraktar drones in October was met with criticism from Russia and some of its Western allies, including France and Germany.

Zelensky warned of “much higher losses” in the event of an invasion.

“Is Russian society ready to pay with the lives of its sons for the attempt to occupy another part of Ukraine?” he asked.

A new poll published by Russia’s independent Levada Center Tuesday found 36% of Russians believe recent tensions between Moscow and Kiev could lead to war.

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