Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke remotely before a joint session of Congress and detailed the horror of Putin’s invasion. Russian troops have fired thousands of missiles, bombed hospitals filled with women and infants, and deployed an unrelenting wave of drones to strike innocent Ukrainians with deadly precision. With the bravery of Ukrainian freedom fighters on full display, Zelenskyy challenged President Biden to reject Russia’s aggressive attempt to drag the region into a state of open warfare: "being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace."
Although the violence against Ukraine has reached new levels of barbarism, this invasion was not at all a surprise. Weeks before Russia officially crossed over into sovereign territory, Putin deployed nearly half of the Russian military to Ukraine's border. Knowing it was all but certain Russia would invade, Biden should have levied sanctions against Russian entities immediately, starting with those associated with the Nord Stream II pipeline. He should have listened back in November when I called on him for sales of lethal aid to Ukrainians before Russia attacked. Instead, he chose to play along with Putin’s false diplomacy.
It was nothing less than willful blindness to Putin’s quest to reunite the old Soviet Union. We learned just last week of his intent to unleash Syrian proxies on anyone still standing between his war machine and the territory he covets. Fighters associated with the Kremlin-backed Wagner paramilitary organization have already slaughtered their way through Africa and the Middle East, installing Russian influence and thus helping Putin rebuild the empire. Now, the same thing is happening in Ukraine.
So much for “peace through strength.” In fact, Biden jeopardized peace by downplaying the value of strength in the face of a belligerent adversary. Up until now, he has categorically failed the people of Ukraine. But, it is not too late. President Biden has a prime opportunity to act.
In the United States Senate, I am leading the charge for freedom. Last week, I introduced a resolution urging Biden to fully remove Russia from the SWIFT banking system, and I led legislation to prevent Putin from exploiting UN peacekeeping contracts to back his proxy military. American troops should not be deployed on Ukrainian territory or by air, but it is still possible for Biden to send a message that the United States will not tolerate Putin's savagery. By taking a stand, Biden can defend the people of Ukraine and help restore peace.
President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian freedom fighters have given Biden a choice: step up as the leader of the free world or stand by and let the New Axis of Evil win. It is time for President Biden to accept Zelenskyy's challenge to champion freedom’s cause. Every day he hesitates is another day Ukrainians suffer at the hands of Vladamir Putin.