U.S. lawmakers condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine early Thursday, calling on the Biden administration to act swiftly to address the first full-scale war in Europe in more than 70 years.
“History will prove Vladimir Putin’s decision to sacrifice the lives of countless Ukrainians and Russians was made out of fear — fear of allowing a neighboring independent, sovereign nation to pursue democracy and freedom,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez in a statement early Thursday.
“This unprovoked attack has brought into sharp focus the need to expel the current Kremlin leadership from the international community. Today must mark a historical shift in how the world views and deals with the despot in Moscow,” he continued.
In a speech late Wednesday, Putin rationalized the unprovoked attack on the independent eastern European nation claiming, without evidence. that a genocide was occurring in Ukraine and calling for the “de-Nazification” of the country, which is led by an elected Jewish president.
The top-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jim Risch, said the Russian bombardment of cities in Ukraine was “a premeditated and flagrant act of war. Despite committed efforts to find a diplomatic solution, Putin has violated the border of a sovereign country.”
Earlier this year, both Menendez and Risch introduced legislation sanctioning Russia for a possible invasion of Ukraine.
As Putin massed troops at the Ukraine border in recent weeks, U.S. lawmakers struggled to reach an agreement on sanctions legislation. Republicans favored triggering sanctions earlier to deter Putin while Democrats favored the Biden administration approach of working in concert with European allies to negotiate a diplomatic solution.
Now that a full-scale Russian invasion has begun, there are several options at the disposal of lawmakers, including $750 million in aid for Ukraine in the 2022 omnibus spending bill and as much as $1 billion in humanitarian aid.
The U.S. Congress is on recess this week and not set to return to Washington until Monday. But lawmakers will receive an unclassified phone briefing from administration officials later on Thursday.
Congressional Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for not acting forcefully enough to deter Putin from the invasion and warned about the consequences of the United States appearing weak on the international stage.
However House Foreign Affairs Committee Lead Republican Michael McCaul, House Armed Services Committee Lead Republican Mike Rogers and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Lead Republican Mike Turner issued a statement putting the blame for the violence in Ukraine squarely on the Russian president.
“Every drop of Ukrainian and Russian blood spilled in this conflict is on Putin’s hands, and his alone,” they wrote. “In response, we are committed to enacting the strongest possible sanctions and export controls to cripple Russia’s ability to make war, punish its barbarity and relegate the Putin regime to the status of an international pariah. We cannot respond like we did in 2008 or 2014.”
Lawmakers called on Biden to impose the toughest possible sanctions on Putin ahead of an expected speech to the nation at midday U.S. time. Republican Senator Rob Portman, the co-chair of the Ukraine Caucus, said in a statement, “We can and we must cripple Russia’s military by starving it of financing. Next, we must impose export and import controls, especially of vital electronic goods like semiconductors. Doing so could restrict the tools Russia needs to manufacture and resupply its military.”
Portman also called for increased military support to Ukraine and other U.S. allies in the region, including supplying anti-tank, anti-ship and anti-aircraft weaponry.
While some wings of both the Republican and Democratic parties have expressed concern about the U.S. being drawn into a ground conflict in Ukraine, Biden has repeatedly stated the U.S. will not commit its own troops to the conflict.