© 2022 WSIU Public Radio
WSIU Public Broadcasting
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Bipartisan Senate delegation traveled to Kyiv to meet Ukraine's leadership

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Earlier this week, a bipartisan Senate delegation traveled to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian leadership, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut was part of the delegation. He joins us now. Welcome, Senator.

CHRIS MURPHY: Thanks for having me.

MARTINEZ: Now, President Biden spoke yesterday about the possibility of what he called a minor incursion by Russia. You've been on the ground in Ukraine. Is that in line with what you anticipate?

MURPHY: I think, right now, we don't know what Vladimir Putin is going to do. It may be that he ends up using what we call asymmetric warfare tactics. It may be that he continues to engage in cyberattacks, for instance, or massive misinformation campaigns. And if that's the case, we have to have a proportional response. But I was glad that the president was crystal clear yesterday publicly. He said the same thing to me privately yesterday, that if there is a Russian military incursion in Ukraine, there's going to be a significant response from the United States and our allies, crushing sanctions on Russia that will devastate their economy.

I think what I saw in Ukraine is a Ukrainian people that are ready for the long haul. It's true the Russian military is much stronger than the Ukrainian military. But the Ukrainian military is in fighting shape. And there's the possibility - I think, likelihood - of a long-term citizen insurgency, like what the Russians faced in Afghanistan in 1980. That will deal a pretty significant blow in the long term...

MARTINEZ: Senator, you mentioned proportional response. If the response from Russia is troops, why wouldn't proportional response from the U.S. and its allies be troops themselves?

MURPHY: Well, Ukraine is not a NATO ally. And to put the kind of U.S. force inside Ukraine necessary to defend it against a Russian invasion, frankly, would involve years and years of preparation. And so I don't know that the American people would support sending hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops into Ukraine. But they would support and they do support significant military and economic assistance to allow Ukraine to fight for itself, I think. You know, Joe Biden's simply reading the American people about where they're willing to send American soldiers to fight and die. But I think Americans are willing to do everything short of that to help Ukraine.

MARTINEZ: Now, the U.S. has threatened crippling sanctions to deter Russia from invading Ukraine. But Europe isn't on board yet. Senator, what's the way forward if everyone isn't on board?

MURPHY: I think it has been a struggle to get Europe to sort of see the intelligence we see. I think there are some in Europe that, frankly, don't believe Russia is actually going to go through with this. But they're coming along. And I think President Biden has been pretty successful in developing this set of sanctions that will be significant and serious. Listen, Russia's short-term goal may be to try to get Ukraine back in its orbit. But Russia's long-term goal is to splinter NATO, to smash NATO. So Biden has these two goals, right? He's got to try to deter Russia from coming into Ukraine. But he can't let the invasion of Ukraine split apart the United States from Europe. That's why he's got to try to keep the U.S. and Europe, keep NATO together on this sanctions package. That's a sort of very fine, difficult line to walk. But I think so far, he's done a good job.

MARTINEZ: But if sanctions are maybe the preferred option here, why did you and many of your colleagues vote against sanctions on Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline?

MURPHY: So this was an effort by Senator Cruz last week - two weeks ago now - to break the United States from our European allies. In fact, this was a bill about sanctions on a series of German entities that are participating in the construction of a pipeline from Russia into Europe. We just did not believe, as the Biden administration didn't believe, that it was smart to have sanctions on Germany in a moment when we needed them...

MARTINEZ: But it would still hurt Russia, though, right? It would still hurt Russia, though, to have those sanctions.

MURPHY: Well, it would hurt Germany much more in that these sanctions would be easily sort of run around by Russia. Russia, probably within weeks or months, could have found a way to get around these sanctions and start rebuilding the pipeline. The Germans have, of course, decided to stop the pipeline. They finally have gotten in alliance with U.S. policy. So it would just be a curious thing to sanction German companies and German individuals right after the German government paused the pipeline. This was an effort by Senator Cruz to try to do the work of the former president, who was trying to split apart the United States from Europe. And ultimately, there will be Republicans and Democrats coming together...

MARTINEZ: But it had...

MURPHY: ...Around sanctions against Russia.

MARTINEZ: It had a majority, though. I mean, 55-44 is what it fell short. It needed 60 votes. You had Raphael Warnock, Mark Kelly. Democratic senators had bipartisan support. So I mean, if - you know, I read your tweet that you said that the U.S. needs to send a clear signal that it's committed to Ukrainian sovereignty. I mean, what kind of a signal does it send to Ukraine that a bill with bipartisan support and a majority of U.S. senators winds up not happening?

MURPHY: Well, that's why we went to Ukraine, this big, bipartisan delegation. Both Republicans and Democrats said, listen, we were divided on this very narrow question of whether we should sanction a handful of German entities related to this pipeline. But Republicans and Democrats are not divided on the question of whether we will continue to send lethal arms to Ukraine and whether we will support sanctions against Russia if Russia invades. So that was the reason that we went. That's the reason the conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats went to Ukraine last week, to show that notwithstanding this fairly narrow disagreement, on 95% of U.S. policy towards Ukraine and Russia, there will be no division.

MARTINEZ: But if Russia invades, if that's what it takes to get sanctions, then Russia has invaded. And who knows what happens as a result?

MURPHY: Well, again...

MARTINEZ: The cat's out of the bag at that point, wouldn't it be, Senator?

MURPHY: Well, the point is that the parties are united on this question of whether we are going to support a crushing set of sanctions if Russia decides to invade through a conventional military invasion. And remember, it's also worth noting that President Biden sanctioned Russia for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. It was only these narrow sanctions on Germany that were in question. I think Russia's gotten the message. And part of that message is that Nord Stream 2, that pipeline is not going to go forward if they proceed with an invasion. This is a commitment that we believe the Germans have made and has been translated to Russia. So hopefully, Putin is beginning to see the full weight of consequences - the consequences to his army through a long-term Ukrainian insurgency and the consequences to his economy - so that he can make the right decision here. Listen, he...

MARTINEZ: But that's not a done deal, Senator. I mean, they said - Germany said they may stop the pipeline from bringing gas to Germany. So it's not a done deal that they are going to stop it.

MURPHY: I'm confident that the Germans will not go forward with the pipeline if Russia invades. This is a pretty sensitive topic in sort of internal German politics. But I'm confident that that pipeline will not happen if Russia invades.

MARTINEZ: That's U.S. Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut. Senator, thanks a lot.

MURPHY: Thanks a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBOHANDS' "LOST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.