The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee has warned that the US may be in the throes of a new Cold War with Russia amid escalating tensions over Ukraine.
During an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) was asked about fears that Russia is planning to invade Ukraine and whether he believes a “new Cold war” is already underway.
“I do. I do, because I think [Russia President Vladimir] Putin again smells weakness here,” the Republican told anchor Jake Tapper on Sunday.
“He knows that if he’s ever going to invade Ukraine, now is the time. I hope he doesn’t make that miscalculation. But the fact is, if he does invade Ukraine, what is the United States, what is our commander-in-chief prepared to do to stop it?” he continued.
His remarks come as up to 100,000 Russian troops have massed at the border with Ukraine, sparking concerns about a possible invasion, similar to when Moscow annexed Crimea eight years ago.
President Biden has threatened severe economic sanctions against Russia if it chooses to invade, but many Republicans — including McCaul — are pressing for action to deter an invasion.
“Rather than threatening after an invasion takes place, we ought to be providing deterrents before an invasion takes place,” the lawmaker said, later adding that while he’s “seeing some tough rhetoric,” there isn’t a “lot of action.”
Late last week, concerns over a potential invasion grew after the White House revealed that it had intelligence suggesting Russian operatives have been deployed to conduct a “false flag” attack in eastern Ukraine that will act as a pretext for Moscow to invade.
Press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the operatives had been tapped to carry out “sabotage attacks” against Russian proxies in the region and added that Moscow’s “influence actors” had begun to “fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media to justify a Russian intervention.”
On Sunday, McCaul emphasized the need for deterrence coming from the US and NATO allies, suggesting it might make Putin “second-guess his calculation to invade Ukraine.”
“Now Ukraine is the breadbasket of Russia. Putin wants to restore the glory of the old Soviet empire. He’s been wanting to do this for quite some time,” he added.
The Texas Republican also called on the US to “put things on the table like sanctions … arms sales, weapons sales to Ukraine.”
His comments came just days after the Senate failed to pass a set of sanctions against Russia put forth by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) — who has also argued for implementing deterrents before Russia takes further military action.
“Today, the Senate rebuked Joe Biden’s surrender to Vladimir Putin on Nord Stream 2. Despite furious White House lobbying, a large bipartisan majority of senators (55-44) once again voted for immediate sanctions on Putin’s pipeline,” Cruz tweeted following the vote. “President Biden should listen to the Senate and to the people and government of Ukraine, and reverse his catastrophic decision to grant Russia waivers from congressionally mandated sanctions.
“Only immediately imposing sanctions can change Putin’s calculation, stop a Ukrainian invasion, and lift the existential threat posed by Nord Stream 2,” Cruz added.
The bill would have placed sanctions on the highly debated pipeline Nord Stream 2 within 15 days after approval, regardless of whether Russia invades Ukraine.
Despite gaining a large chunk of Democratic approval, the proposal was rejected by the White House and other top Democrats who put forth their own set of sanctions with a more strategic timeline.
The tensions between the US and Russia over Ukraine largely stem from Moscow’s request that NATO cease its expansion into Eastern Europe and prevent Ukraine from joining the Atlantic alliance, citing security concerns.
Last week, the US, Russia and NATO allies held diplomatic talks in Geneva and Vienna to discuss the concerns, but officials failed to make any progress as the US has labeled Russian demands a “non-starter.”