President Biden on Wednesday met virtually with a bipartisan group of senators to discuss Russia’s military buildup along the Ukraine border, the White House said.
“President Biden and the senators exchanged views on the best ways the United States can continue to work closely with our allies and partners in support of Ukraine, including both ongoing diplomacy to try to resolve the current crisis and deterrence measures,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Some of the senators who conferred with Mr. Biden recently returned from a trip to Ukraine, where they met with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and reaffirmed the U.S.’s support amid escalating tensions with Russia.
Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday that the administration is “about three months behind where they should be at this time” in responding to Russia’s troop buildup on its border with Ukraine.
“Russia, they’re continuing to build up,” Mr. Inhofe said in a statement. “We know what they’re doing. We see every day the Ukrainian border. The best way the United States can support our friends in Ukraine is to quickly deliver additional aid and bolster Ukraine’s defenses.”
Mr. Inhofe, who did not attend the meeting with the president, compared Mr. Biden’s response to the current crisis with President Obama’s reaction to Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 when he said the Obama administration failed to send aid to Ukraine in advance of the invasion.
“Sadly, this is history repeating itself,” Mr. Inhofe said.
Other Republicans joined in pressing the administration to take a tougher stance against Russia.
Sen. James E. Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Congress stands unified with the administration in opposing Russia’s buildup. But he said the administration needs to take firm steps toward deterring the Kremlin. He was among the senators who attended the virtual meeting with Mr. Biden.
“It is disheartening to see the trajectory is in the wrong direction,” Mr. Risch said. “It is really important that the trajectory be reversed. And the only way that is going to happen is if we start acting now. The focus now should be on stopping an invasion, not talking about what happens afterward.”
The back-and-forth follows Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s warning on Wednesday that Russia is in a position to attack Ukraine on “very short notice,” even as he urged Moscow to choose a “diplomatic and peaceful path.”
“[W]e know that there are plans in place to increase that force even more on very short notice, and that gives [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin the capacity, also on very short notice, to take further aggressive action against Ukraine,” Mr. Blinken said in remarks to U.S. embassy staff in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
Russia has stationed 100,000 troops near the Ukraine border, raising fears that an invasion is imminent.
Mr. Biden told Mr. Putin in December that Russia would be slapped with severe sanctions if it moved into Ukraine, and the U.S. would increase military aid to the beleaguered nation.
Moscow, in response, has demanded a guarantee from the West that NATO won’t expand to include Ukraine, and will reduce troops and weaponry deployed in Eastern Europe.
The U.S. and NATO have balked at Russia’s demands, instead offering to talk about issues like arms control.
Senators who participated in the meeting and also traveled to Ukraine included Democrats Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, both of Connecticut, and Republicans Rob Portman of Ohio, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
Mr. Risch was not part of the group that traveled to Ukraine.