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McConnell calls for arming Ukrainians, maximizing sanctions against Russia

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in Louisville after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in Louisville after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Thursday the U.S. should maximize sanctions against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine and encouraged world leaders to arm Ukrainians and bolster troops in NATO-aligned countries.

“Ratchet the sanctions all the way up, don’t hold any back. Every single available tough sanction should be employed and should be employed now,” McConnell said during a news conference in Louisville.

McConnell said he would not advocate for troops on the ground in Ukraine, but reiterated the United States’ commitment to NATO’s Article 5 that states an attack on one member country is an attack on all countries. Ukraine is not a NATO member country. He said he supports arming Ukrainians fighting the Russian incursion.

“We need to make sure they are fully armed and able to use every available weapon that will inflict maximum damage on the Russian forces,” he said. 

Though McConnell supported President Joe Biden’s efforts to bolster NATO troops and supported Russian sanctions, he also blamed the president, saying the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan created a “perception of weakness.”

That perception, combined with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “yearning for empire,” led to the invasion, he said. 

“I think the precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan in August was a signal to Putin and maybe to Chinese President Xi as well, that America was in retreat.” McConnell said.

Despite his criticism of the administration, McConnell said he supports the actions Biden has taken thus far and believes now is the time for Americans to come together and make unified decisions.

McConnell declined to respond to former President Donald Trump's recent comments praising Putin's invasion strategy. "Anybody else?" he said in response.

On the domestic front, McConnell said he expects the invasion will likely add to rising prices in the U.S, a concern that was echoed by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

Response from Kentucky leaders

In a video statement Thursday morning, Beshear said he was "deeply concerned" by the conflict and praised the Biden administration for imposing sanctions on Russia. 

He also worried that the conflict could lead to higher gas prices. 

"This is a small price to pay to stop this act of aggression, though I understand we will all feel it. What I'd ask is that this be a time of unity. This should be a reminder that we have real enemies overseas that want to harm us and others and that we are not each other's enemies. It's time for America to be united, every single one of us, against this external threat," Beshear said. 

U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Republican, said in a tweet that the Russian invasion would make the country a “pariah” not seen since the end of the Cold War.  

Kentucky’s 6th District Congressman Andy Barr, a Republican and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the invasion a “gross violation of international law” and blamed the Biden administration’s “weak and feckless foreign policy.”

“Putin’s brutal act of war represents a naked attempt to re-litigate the terms of the end of the Cold War. Yet, these developments were not inevitable,” Barr wrote in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican representing Kentucky’s 4th Congressional District, signed a letter with 42 other representatives “to remind the President that Congress alone has the authority to declare war.”

Congressman John Yarmuth, a Democrat who represents the Louisville area, issued a statement on Twittersaying he was “praying for the safety for the people of Ukraine and for peace.”

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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