PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said Wednesday he remains convinced the United States has leverage over Vladimir Putin as the Russian leader mobilizes forces against Ukraine, but he wants the Biden administration moved more quickly to impose sanctions.
In an interview with 12 News, Whitehouse argued that world leaders must “completely isolate Russia” – and said he believed Putin would be particularly hurt by efforts to prosecute wealthy Russian oligarchs who have assets in other countries.
“To me, his point of vulnerability is to go after the oligarchs and take their yachts, take their luxurious townhouses in London, take their apartments in Miami – take it all what you can find and have them come and try to get it back,” Whitehouse said.
While acknowledging that the Russians might try to respond by launching cyberattacks against the United States, Whitehouse said, “we have our own cyber capabilities, so they’ll be at real risk if they get too nefarious.”
Whitehouse, a third-term Democrat, returned Wednesday from a trip to Europe where he co-led a bipartisan congressional delegation to the Munich Security Conference, an annual high-level gathering of Western leaders. The Ukrainian crisis has been at the center of concerns this year.
Whitehouse was one of three local lawmakers who attended the event, along with Democratic congressmen Jim Langevin of Rhode Island and Bill Keating of Massachusetts.
“We really saw quite an amazing unity and strength among all the nations participating in the Atlantic alliance,” Whitehouse said.
“Putin went into this hoping he could break up NATO, hoping he could crack [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky and bringing down the Ukrainian government, and hoping that he would be able to extort demands from all of us,” he said. “And he’s 0 for 3 on these things.”
At the same time, Whitehouse said he would have preferred the Biden administration to impose an initial round of sanctions against the Russian regime based solely on its continued threats against Ukraine.
“Putting a knife to someone’s throat is wrong, whether you drive the knife home or not,” he said, while adding that administration officials “have a lot of things to do, and I can’t fault their judgement”.
Whitehouse said members of Congress were considering a range of legislative responses to the crisis, including allocating funds to create a task force that would target Russian oligarchs, as well as bolstering the administration’s sanctions authority. and giving more money to the Ukrainian government and the country’s refugees.
He also painted the stakes in stark terms.
“If we allow Putin to invade and occupy Ukraine and violate the conventions of nationhood and sovereignty that way, then you can bet the Chinese will be watching and it might affect what they do in about Taiwan,” Whitehouse said, warning that such an outcome would “weaken the foundations of democracy” around the world.
Keating, who represents New Bedford and Fall River, said in a Wednesday interview on 12 News at 4 that he believed Putin was preparing to order “a much more expansive invasion” of Ukraine, after the Russian leader sent troops to two breakaway regions earlier. this week.
But Keating said the rally in Munich also led him to believe Putin miscalculated by underestimating the unity of Western nations.
“He thought that because of his energy leverage, because of the elections that had just happened in Germany and were about to happen in France, the fatigue in the United States with the war in Afghanistan – he thought that it would be, in the midst of a COVID pandemic, time to make a long-awaited plan that he has put in place,” Keating said.
He added: “It’s not just about Ukraine and Russia. People need to realize the magnitude of this. … It is a historic battle that is now before us at this time, not only between these two countries but between democracy and authoritarianism.
Ted Nesi ([email protected]) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and a 12 News political/economics editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook
Kim Kalunian contributed to this report.