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Sen. Warner Delivers Dire Warning To Putin On Eve of Invasion

Tuesday, Feb. 15 — Virginia U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, took to the Senate floor today to speak out against Russia’s aggression towards the people of Ukraine.

 “As we speak, Vladimir Putin continues to ready more than a hundred thousand soldiers, tanks, artillery, aircraft, and missiles along Ukraine’s border. To Ukraine’s north, in Belarus, Russia has positioned tens of thousands more, nominally as part of a military exercise. To Ukraine’s south, Russian ships are amassing in the Black Sea. Propaganda and disinformation are streaming on the internet and on Russian TV channels, as part of a Russian playbook we now know well. The Kremlin’s intent is to manufacture a pretext for its aggression and sow divisions in the West,” said Sen. Warner on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

“It is as clear today, as it will be through the lens of history, that this march of aggression has been led by one man, and that’s Vladimir Putin. But it is important for Putin to know: It is not too late to back down from this foolish and destructive course of action. Even at this eleventh hour, diplomatic avenues very much remain open. President Putin can still choose against leading further aggression and invasion that would have the opposite effect than what he imagines,” he continued. “If he does invade, he will have unleashed a tragedy not just for Ukraine, but for the Russian people. Putin will have rightly earned the enmity of all free nations and people everywhere, and Russia’s economy and citizens will suffer. I want to be clear: In the event of an unwarranted, unjustified and illegitimate attack on Ukraine, the United States will stand with the people of Ukraine.”

Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery are available here:

M. President, I rise today in response to Russia’s alarming and impending threat towards its neighbor, the independent nation of Ukraine.

As we speak, Vladimir Putin continues to ready more than a hundred thousand soldiers, tanks, artillery, aircraft, and missiles along Ukraine’s border. To Ukraine’s north, in Belarus, Russia has positioned tens of thousands more, nominally as part of a military exercise. To Ukraine’s south, Russian ships are amassing in the Black Sea.

Propaganda and disinformation are streaming on the internet and on Russian TV channels, as part of a Russian playbook we now know well.

The Kremlin’s intent is to manufacture a pretext for its aggression and sow divisions in the West. 

Russian troops already occupy vast tracts of Ukraine in Crimea and continue a quote-unquote “low-grade” war in eastern Ukraine initiated by Mr. Putin that has cost over 14,000 lives.  Ukrainian soldiers have been bravely fighting and dying to protect their country from what has been naked aggression from Russia. We hear – even from Ukrainian leadership – that their forces would face an unequal fight in a full-scale Russian invasion… and could be outnumbered and overwhelmed.

And while Moscow has amassed the largest concentration of military forces seen in Europe since the end of the Cold War, it continues to make shrill accusations that it is not Ukraine, but Russia that is somehow under threat… all while making demands that Ukraine never join NATO, or control its own destiny.

Even as he threatens war with Ukraine, Mr. Putin demands to be treated as the head of a “normal” government. He thrills at being given one-on-one meetings with other world leaders or being invited to diplomatic fora. He rails that Russia has been unfairly singled out for sanctions.  He demands respect, even as he lays out a thesis denying that Ukraine is, or ever was, a country with its own traditions, language, aspirations, or sovereignty. 

What Mr. Putin really fears is that if Ukraine succeeds in building a nation where Ukrainian-speakers and Russian-speakers have genuine freedoms, can vote in free elections, and can control their own destiny… that Russians may start to wonder why they have to live in a country where Putin has practically made himself a “President for Life,” eligible to stay in office until 2036… where questioning the endemic corruption of the Russian state… trying to run a business without paying off officials… or even expressing an opinion… can lead to detention, trumped-up charges, or even death from a military-grade nerve agent.

Mr. Putin fears that Ukraine could prove to be a model of what Russia could become without his kleptocratic regime.

Mr. Putin says he feels threatened by NATO.  He wants to go back to the days when the USSR held Eastern Europe – including Ukraine – in its iron grip. So he has decided to seize chunks of Ukraine’s territory and unilaterally change European borders.

This isn’t a new position for Putin – it reflects a long-held view. In 2005, he called the fall of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.

In 2008, he invaded Georgia.

When Russian forces seized control of Crimea in 2014, he sent in his “little green men” and updated his doctrine of “hybrid warfare.”

He has felt unconstrained to send agents of the Russian state to assassinate those he sees as his enemies – whether in Kyiv, or London, or Berlin, or Sofia, or Vienna.

As he has built up his arsenal and threatened his neighbors, Putin has crushed even the hint of political opposition at home.

All of this while wanting to be seen as a victim… and as the leader of a “normal” participant in the community of nations.  These actions are not and cannot ever be acceptable or accepted by the civilized world. 

So what can the United States and the West do?  President Biden and other Western leaders have undertaken the right approach – offering Putin multiple diplomatic “off-ramps” and a dialogue about Russia’s exaggerated fears regarding European security. Nobody wants a military conflict between two nuclear powers, so the President has clearly stated that U.S. troops are not being sent to fight Russia in Ukraine.

At the same time, President Biden has made it extremely clear that if Russia rejects this diplomatic path and conducts further aggression against Ukraine, that there will be a heavy price to pay. Russia will face the immediate imposition of strong, robust and effective sanctions – including sectoral sanctions against its banking and financial system… as well as stringent export controls that will damage its economy. 

And at the same time, while we do want to ensure that there are no miscalculations or unintended escalation, the United States and European nations have increased their supply of defensive weapons to Ukraine to ensure that Putin knows that any invasion will impose costs on the Russian military. Mr. Putin may find that if he invades, he may not find the going so easy.

Ukrainians do not want to be part of Russia – especially at the point of a gun. As someone who has argued that Russia and Ukraine are one fraternal people, it will be difficult for Putin to explain why Russian soldiers are dying while trying to kill their Ukrainian “brethren.” 

And, as a major part of his policy, President Biden has endeavored to keep NATO together and united – since one of Putin’s major goals is to undermine that unity. The Administration’s approach is significantly different from the previous President, who undermined the transatlantic alliance, questioned the need for its existence, and took every opportunity to weaken the shared bonds that have kept the peace in Europe since World War II.

The President has put thousands of US forces on standby and has deployed U.S. forces to NATO’s eastern flank – not to inflame the situation, but to ensure that there is no mistake about our commitment to NATO’s collective defense, willingness to deter aggression, and to bolster the alliance’s readiness.

Other NATO members have also agreed to send military forces to its eastern border to ensure that Putin knows that the Alliance stands united. 

Let us be very clear who the aggressor is in these provocations. The eyes of the world have been on Vladimir Putin and Russia, as he has initiated a steady and deliberate build-up of Russian forces and military assets to the North, East, and South of Ukraine, and he has rebuffed multiple diplomatic overtures to deescalate the situation.

And through media reporting…satellite imagery…and intelligence shared by our government and by the British, much of Putin’s incitement has been out in the open for all to see.

It is as clear today, as it will be through the lens of history, that this march of aggression has been led by one man, and that’s Vladimir Putin.

But it is important for Putin to know: It is not too late to back down from this foolish and destructive course of action…even at this eleventh hour, diplomatic avenues very much remain open. President Putin can still choose against leading further aggression and invasion that would have the opposite effect than what he imagines.

If he does invade, he will have unleashed a tragedy not just for Ukraine, but for the Russian people. Putin will have rightly earned the enmity of all free nations and people everywhere, and Russia’s economy and citizens will suffer.

I want to be clear: In the event of an unwarranted, unjustified and illegitimate attack on Ukraine, the United States will stand with the people of Ukraine.

Russia will become a pariah nation, a rogue state.  The legitimacy of Putin’s regime will be significantly undermined. And the NATO alliance that Mr. Putin worries so much about?   It will be reinvigorated to fulfill the mission it was created for: as a defensive alliance to resist Soviet aggression. 

I urge President Putin to choose the right path… deescalate tensions… engage in a real and honest diplomatic process… end any plans leading towards a violent conflict in Ukraine… and ultimately spare Russia the crippling economic consequences that would be necessitated by his aggression..