Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., appears confident that Ukraine – with backing from the United States – will stand up to further incursions by Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “understands one thing. He understands strength. And we have to show strength in return,” Donnelly said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters.
Donnelly was part of a bipartisan congressional delegation that visited Ukraine on Sunday in the wake of Russia’s takeover of the country’s Crimea region.
Donnelly, a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, said the U.S. and its allies can cause “extraordinary financial damage” to Russia if they impose economic sanctions against its energy and finance sectors.
He also said the U.S. and NATO are talking about reviving plans to place a missile base in Poland. And although Ukraine officials have not sought U.S. weapons, they did inquire about obtaining military communications gear, he said.
ITT Exelis and Raytheon produce military communications systems at their Fort Wayne plants.
The Obama administration has so far frozen U.S. assets of certain Russians and banned them from entering the U.S. The Senate is considering legislation this week to send financial aid to Ukraine and order further sanctions against Russia.
Describing Putin as a “thug-ocracy,” Donnelly warned that any attempt by Russia to grab more of Ukraine “risks setting off catastrophic events. We stand with our allies in Ukraine that if Russia crosses that line, they’ll be getting into a swamp that will be very, very difficult to get out of.”
Residents of the capital, Kiev, told Donnelly during his visit there that they “will fight for every square inch of the country,” he said.
“Every single person who came up … and they would ask, ‘Are you U.S.?’ I said, ‘Yes, I am,’ and they said, ‘We will fight,’” Donnelly told reporters. “It was not just one person or another person, it was waves of people coming up and saying that.”
Even if Russia’s military is far superior to Ukraine’s, Donnelly said, “there’d be very, very significant pain inflicted on Russia as well. And Mr. Putin would have to explain to Russian moms and dads why their sons and daughters never came home from Ukraine.”
The congressional delegation that visited Ukraine included Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass. They and Donnelly also made stops in Israel and Afghanistan last week.