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Why Ukraine matters

Vladimir Putin is a madman. He is a thug. He is a power-hungry criminal with no regard for the rule of law or human life.

Americans are disgusted by the atrocities Putin is inflicting on the Ukrainian people, but we do not want to get sucked in to another foreign war. In this critical hour, the United States can lead without putting U.S. boots on the ground.

photo of jim risch

Sen. Jim Risch

This war has broader implications than just those for Ukraine. With much hanging in the balance, it’s important to understand how we got here and what this military conflict means for the future of American leadership in the world.

When America won the Cold War and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine regained its independence. However, since Vladimir Putin first took power in Russia in 2000, he has attempted to rebuild the Soviet Empire and erode Ukraine’s sovereignty. Putin has consistently called Ukraine “Russian territory” and meddled in the country’s internal affairs.

Putin’s goal is simple: he is determined to reach across Russia’s borders and swallow up former Soviet states he believes are the property of Russia. With this in mind, he has spent the last 15 years menacing Eastern Europe and creating chaos in democracies around the world.

He has sent his henchmen after his enemies, kidnapping and poisoning them abroad. He has levied disruptive cyber-attacks on Estonia. He invaded Georgia in 2008 and took two provinces. In 2014, he crippled Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, then invaded and seized the Crimean Peninsula. So when open source intelligence showed Russian troops arriving at Ukraine’s border in ever greater numbers last year, the likelihood of a Russian invasion became a near certainty.

Taken in isolation, this David and Goliath contest has immense implications for the Ukrainian people. Ukrainians have shown their resolve to defend and die for their freedoms and sovereignty, just as the American people did in 1776. However, the stakes of this war are much higher than this conflict alone, and China is closely watching how we respond to Russia’s aggression.

A rising China and resurgent Russia are challenging the United States for dominance on the world stage. Xi and Putin want to impose their authoritarian power structure, norms and practices on the world. For them, this competition is a zero-sum game. If America shows weakness, they will press their advantage and pose a grave threat to America.

The way we protect U.S. interests and stay out of this fight is by giving Ukrainians the tools to defend their sovereignty. Give Ukraine missiles. Give them airplanes. Give them humanitarian assistance. Give them equipment to defend themselves against Putin’s war machine, and do it faster. Their bravery shows they can do it on their own if supplied properly.

To that end, the Administration needs to stop dragging its feet. Congress has had to shame the Administration into every positive step it has taken. The Administration needs to stop reacting and start leading.

This war is not just about Ukraine. The fight in Ukraine is a strategic challenge with long-term implications for the free world. Ukraine is the opening move in a game to tip the balance of power toward Russia and China to dominate the world for the next century or more. For the sake of our country and the sake of the free world, the Administration needs to get serious about supporting Ukraine with war-fighting materials so we can prevent a more sweeping conflict from coming to our shores.

Ronald Reagan brought the Soviet Union crumbling down without ever firing a shot. We can do the same in this pivotal moment by arming Ukraine to defend its sovereignty so that freedom and democracy can flourish and prevail for decades to come.

— Jim Risch, R-Idaho, represents the state in the U.S. Senate.

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