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CEDAR RAPIDS — As she pushes for a more forceful response to Russian aggression toward Ukraine, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, draws on a personal perspective.
“This hits me very hard,” said Ernst, who as a college student lived on collective farm while on an agricultural exchange in Ukraine in 1989.
“The one thing that we took away from there was not just the differences in our agriculture, but the fact that Ukraine at that time wanted to be an independent, free nation,” she said Tuesday in Cedar Rapids.
“So yes, I have strong feelings about this,” she said about threats by Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade his independent neighbor. “It is extremely disheartening to see his actions and the buildup as he prepares for a potential invasion.
Ernst has been calling on the Biden administration to impose tougher sanctions on Russia now as a deterrent to an invasion. Russia has amassed weapons and more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s eastern border.
“Put those sanctions in place. We can ratchet them up even higher if he does invade,” she said. “We need to start pushing back now and letting President Putin know that we do mean that we are actually going to follow through on what we're saying we're going to do. We need to prevent an invasion.”
Once an invasion happens, “lives are lost and (Putin) gains territory,” Ernst said, adding that Russia has not moved out of Georgia and Crimea after invading those former Soviet states.
Ernst, an Army combat veteran, is not calling for U.S. military involvement beyond providing lethal weapons to help Ukraine defend itself. Congress has allowed for $450 million of aid to Ukraine.
“Diplomacy always must be the first answer. When diplomacy fails, that's when all of those actions will be considered,” she said. “But I think it's imperative we start putting the sanctions in place now to try to prevent that.”
Ernst, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has criticized President Joe Biden for a “doctrine of appeasement” toward Putin.
It’s not just the fate of Ukraine and Ukrainians at stake, according to Ernst.
“Russia invading Ukraine matters to Americans — not only for the safety and security of our partners in Europe,” she told CNN. “When we have a stable Europe, when we have democracy around the globe, it makes our country safer. This matters.”
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