‘Sanctions from hell’: Senators back Ukraine against Russia following drone strike

by Joel Gehrke, Foreign Affairs Reporter

Russian President Vladimir Putin will provoke “sanctions from hell” if the frozen conflict in Ukraine turns hot, according to a prominent Republican.

“I’m hoping that they understand that the Russian economy, as weak as it is … they invade parts of the Ukraine, it will get weaker,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told the Washington Examiner.

Graham, the top Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee that allocates State Department funding, issued that warning as tensions flare between Kyiv and Moscow. Ukrainian forces reportedly conducted an unprecedented drone strike against Russian-controlled artillery in eastern Ukraine, drawing renewed threats from Russia that coincided with reports of troop movements within western Russia that put Western officials on the watch for any ominous military buildup.

France and Germany, which have coordinated the so-called Normandy Format for talks to manage the Ukraine crisis, noted their attention to “the movements of Russian troops” in a message that signaled disapproval of the strike.

“We are closely monitoring the situation … and call on all parties to exercise restraint and work toward the immediate de-escalation of tensions,” the foreign ministries in Paris and Berlin said in a joint statement

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky adopted a pugilistic posture: “When the Ukrainian army feels the need to defend its land, it does so.” His remarks drew bipartisan support in Washington.

“I don’t feel like Russia has any right to question Ukraine on violations of Minsk,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat and Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, in reference to the agreements that Western powers once hoped would end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Shaheen and Graham both said that they would not agree with French or German criticism of Ukraine in this context.

“Hundreds of violations by Russian proxies and nothing happened,” said Graham. “So the French and Germans may be upset, but I’m upset that the system they negotiated does not work.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin underscored Tuesday that Russian forces have 2,000 unmanned aerial vehicles of their own while acknowledging the threat posed by such weapons.

“We know very well that they have won a reputation during armed conflicts over the past few years, we know their efficiency and the danger they can pose for us, in the context of what we have seen in Syria, namely, terrorist attacks involving drones,” he said at a meeting of defense ministry and industry officials. “We have learned to repel these attacks, and we are doing this effectively.”

Zelensky reportedly purchased the drones from Turkey, a NATO ally that has developed a complicated relationship with both Moscow and the rest of the trans-Atlantic security bloc.

“Our air vehicles are admired all over the world,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this year as military tacticians around the world reviewed the results of Turkish drone strikes in a recent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. “Turkish armed drones are changing the methods of war.”

Shaheen sought to avoid overstating the tactical significance of the Ukrainian drone forces. “I think it’s too soon to know the answer to that,” she said. “But clearly, it gives them another weapon, which is going to be important as we look at Russia’s aggression.”

And Graham concurred that the political lens is clear. “I don’t see the Ukrainians being the provocateurs here,” he said. “They’re not going to use a fleet of drones to wipe out a bunch of tanks, but you can use drones to gather intelligence and respond [to Russian threats]. I don’t know what to say other than that. Drones are a weapon of war now.”

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