Sen. Joni Ernst on Sunday called for immediate sanctions against Russia over its potential invasion of Ukraine — a move rejected by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who hopes the military standoff can be resolved through the help of allies and diplomacy.
“We need to act now,” the Republican senator from Iowa told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”
“When it comes to pushing back against Russia, we need to show strength and not be in a position of doctrine of appeasement, which seems to be how President Biden has worked his administration,” Ernst continued.
“So, we do need to go ahead and impose sanctions on Russia now. We need to show them that we mean business and we will be there for Ukraine should they invade.”
Ernst, who is on the Senate Armed Forces Committee, said once Russian forces cross into Ukraine, “lives are lost. You can’t go back from that.”
“So, those sanctions need to be put in place now. They could be expelled from the SWIFT banking system,” she said, referring to the banking transfer platform the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. “Certainly, we need to make sure that any defensive aid is in the hands of the Ukrainians, as well as much lethal aid as we can provide at this time.”
But prior to Ernst’s appearance on CNN, Blinken dismissed her push for sanctions as a preemptive move against Putin, who has amassed more than 100,000 troops and heavy military equipment along Russia’s eastern border with Ukraine and could launch an invasion at any time.
During his interview on “State of the Union,” Blinken said the US has ramped up its efforts to arm Ukraine with American weapons. He said America is also working with its allies to develop a united front against Russia and continued to hold out hope that the impasse can be resolved through diplomacy.
“When it comes to sanctions, the purpose of those sanctions is to deter Russian aggression. And so if they are triggered now, you lose the deterrent effect,” he said.
Blinken said high-level talks have already occurred between US, European and Russia officials over Putin’s demand for guarantees that Ukraine or other former Soviet states not be allowed to join NATO.
He said the next step is up to Putin.
“All of the things that we’re doing, including building up in a united way with Europe, massive consequences for Russia, is designed to factor into President Putin’s calculus and to deter and dissuade them from taking aggressive action, even as we pursue diplomacy at the same time,” he said.
Blinken also continued to clean up remarks made by President Biden last week that a “minor incursion” into Ukraine by Russia may not prompt a forceful and coordinated response from the US and its NATO allies.
“If a single additional Russian force goes into Ukraine in an aggressive way, as I said, that would trigger a swift, a severe and a united response from us and from Europe,” Blinken emphasized.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, faced with the massive force across his country’s border, also urged sanctions to be imposed immediately.
“Today our partners are saying that war may start tomorrow if there is a powerful escalation on the Russian side, and then there will be powerful sanctions applied,” he told the Washington Post in an interview last week.
“But if we are talking about the sanctions policy and the probability of escalation, then the question is, why are you not introducing sanctions now rather than wait until after the escalation?”
Zelensky encouraged continued diplomacy between Russia and the US and a seat at the talks, but he said sanctions would be a strong deterrent.
“Sanctions are considered to be a preventive tool because they can be applied and then lifted,” he said. “If there is an invasion by Russia, do you introduce powerful sanctions after we might have already lost several territories? Once you introduce sanctions, what will Russia do?”