Sen. Johnson: Putin 'Is Not Going to Respond to Words'

Sunday, 04 May 2014 02:29 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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President Barack Obama's sanctions on Russia over its aggression on Ukraine have "had very little effect," Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson says, because Russian President Vladimir Putin is "not going to respond to words."

Johnson, who heads the Senate European Affairs Subcommittee, recently visited Ukraine and told CNN "State of the Union" host Candy Crowley Sunday that Obama's sanction threats aren't working.

"Vladimir Putin is only going to respond to action, strength, and resolve," said Johnson. "The sad fact is, sanctions haven't worked. All the devaluation of currency, the devaluation of the stock market occurred before the sanctions were ever put in place. Basically, that all happened right after the Russian Parliament authorized use of force. And that's when all that devaluation occurs."

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Obama, in a press conference this week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, warned Putin of more sanctions if he continues to destabilize eastern Ukraine and disrupt this month's upcoming presidential election.

But Johnson said there is already disruption taking place.

"We are seeing, you know, these Russian sympathizers, and I would say really Russian agents in many respects, taking over administration buildings, fomenting unrest," said Johnson. "And now we're really seeing this erupt into real violence. People are dying. And that's exactly what Vladimir Putin wants."

Johnson noted that Putin not only wants to destabilize Ukraine, but has been undermining smaller republics that broke away from the former Soviet Union for years, "because he doesn't want to see successful democracy on his borders, because that destabilizes Russia, or certainly threatens his power."

Meanwhile, Johnson said, Putin's actions make no "economic, rational sense" because "he's only doing it to consolidate his own power."

And while nobody is talking about "combat boots on the ground," Putin is amassing tens of thousand of troops and the United States needs to strengthen NATO and provide defensive weaponry such as anti-tank devices to Ukraine.

Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who also appeared on Sunday's show, said "Ukraine is a country in mourning" because of violence that has exploded in Eastern Ukraine.

"I would say, having spent some time in Odessa just three weeks ago and spoken with a broad range of political and civil society leaders, there's nothing that I heard and saw while I was in that city which would explain what transpired on Friday night," said Pyatt.

"I think it suggests that somebody wanted this violence to explode the way it did. And I think, at this point, the whole country is trying to figure out what happened, how to pull together, and how to make sure that those who are trying to divide the country will not be successful."

Johnson said Russia has been quite successful in waging its "propaganda war."

"When we were there, I was asking, what are they lying to Ukrainians about?" he said. "They're telling them that they're going to that Kiev is going to be sending death squads to pull people out of their homes. They say they're going to be forced out of their Russian orthodox, Ukrainian orthodox faith and into Catholicism."

But he feels that if Putin decides to stage a full-blown invasion, nothing will stop him.

"When Prime Minister [Arseniy] Yatsenyuk was here just asking for pretty reasonable request of some small arms and ammunition, as a sign, as a sign of strength and resolve to support for Ukrainians unfortunately, we didn't provide that," said Johnson. "Nobody can predict exactly what would have happened, but I think it's that type of weakness that has given Vladimir Putin the certainly the signal that he can continue to do these things with impunity."

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