- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 23, 2022

Key Republicans said Sunday that President Biden must revamp his Russia strategy and impose crippling sanctions on Moscow right now, rather than wait to roll out those punishments after Russian troops have taken military action against Ukraine.

The growing pressure on the Biden administration comes as fears mount that a Russian ground invasion of neighboring Ukraine is virtually inevitable.

Ukrainian officials now say more than 125,000 Russian forces are stationed along the two countries’ border, while British intelligence officials warned over the weekend that the Kremlin is plotting a coup to depose Ukraine‘s elected leaders and install a pro-Russian puppet regime.

Russia has denied any plans for an invasion or a coup, but has not dropped demands for sweeping concessions from Kyiv and NATO on security in the region, threatening an unspecified response if its wishes are ignored.

Against that backdrop, critics say Mr. Biden must take stronger action — now.

“I believe we need to act now when it comes to pushing back against Russia. We need to show strength and not be in a position of, a doctrine of appeasement, which seems to be how President Biden has worked his administration,” Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

“I think we have many options for deterrence when it comes to Russia. But we need to impose those now,” Ms. Ernst said. Russian President Vladimir Putin “sees every opportunity to do what he wants in Ukraine with very little pushback from the United States.”

The U.S. and its allies have vowed a united, coordinated response should Russia move ahead with military action on Ukraine. Officials have said that response will include an unprecedented wave of punishing economic and financial sanctions. 

The administration has taken some action already. For example, the Treasury Department last week sanctioned four Russians allegedly involved with “Russian government-directed influence activities to destabilize Ukraine.”

Administration officials say there is good reason to remain patient. Fully imposing all possible sanctions now, they say, could backfire by signaling to Mr. Putin that he has little left to lose and might as well go ahead with an invasion.

“The purpose of those sanctions is to deter Russian aggression. And so if they’re triggered now, you lose that deterrent effect,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN on Sunday.

But Mr. Blinken, who met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov again Friday in Geneva in a bid to head off a military conflict, stressed that the U.S. and its allies are prepared to act quickly.

“If a single additional Russian force goes into Ukraine in an aggressive way … that would trigger a swift, a severe and a united response from us and from Europe,” he said.

In Ukraine, officials believe the U.S. is missing a chance to potentially avert a war by moving ahead with its sanctions plan now.

“As a country that is building a powerful economy and undergoing reforms, I support imposing sanctions now,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told The Washington Post last week.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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