U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the United States should designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism and start training Ukrainian pilots on using F-16 fighter jets to aid Kyiv in the Russia-Ukraine war.
Graham’s requests, if granted, would represent a significant escalation in military support from the United States to Ukraine. It comes a day after Vice President Kamala Harris formally declared Putin’s Russia to have committed “crimes against humanity” in Ukraine.
“They need the weapons system,” Graham said on ABC’s “This Week” program aired on Sunday, Feb. 19—referring to Ukraine.
“We’re talking about the vice president of the United States declaring that Russia is involved in crimes against humanity in Germany of all places, echoes of World War II. How can you say that—and she is correct—and not give the victim of the crime against humanity the defensive weapons they need to stop the crime?”
Graham was speaking from Munich, during the weekend of the annual Munich Security Conference, which drew attendance from nearly 5o U.S. lawmakers and hundreds of politicians worldwide this year.
“So, we need to do two things quickly,” Graham continued. “Make Russia a state sponsor of terrorism under U.S. law, which would make it harder for China to give weapons to Russia, and we need to start training Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 now.”
U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 140th Wing of the Colorado Air National Guard during NATO exercise Saber Strike flies over Amari military air base, Estonia, on June 12, 2018. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)
According to U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the decision regarding sending fighters to Ukraine is still pending.
“We have to ensure, and I think Secretary Blinken said this as well, that they have the training necessary and the capacity to use weapon systems that we provide to them,” Greenfield said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Feb. 19. “Discussions will continue over the course of the next few weeks and months, as we determine how best to support them.”
President Joe Biden in January said “no” when asked whether he would consider supplying F-16 warplanes to Ukraine.
However, The New York Times cited correspondences from U.S. officials following Biden’s rejection, indicating that sending F-16s was not out of the question.
To date, the United States has committed to delivering one Patriot battery, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, as well as 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.
U.S. M1A2 “Abrams” tank moves to firing positions during U.S. led joint military exercise “Noble Partner 2016” near Vaziani, Georgia, on May 18, 2016. (David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters)
“I believe a decision will be imminent here when we get back to Washington that the administration will start training Ukrainian pilots on the F-16,” Graham said.
Two days before Graham’s requests, a bipartisan group of U.S. House Representatives petitioned Biden to send F-16 warplanes to Ukraine in a letter; signatories included Jared Golden (D-Maine), Jason Crow (D-Colo.), Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), and Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), Politico reported.
“F-16s or similar fourth generation fighter aircraft would provide Ukraine with a highly mobile platform from which to target Russian air-to-air missiles and drones, to protect Ukrainian ground forces as they engage Russian troops, as well as to engage Russian fighters for contested air superiority,” the lawmakers wrote, according to Politico.
State Sponsor of Terrorism Delegation
Graham also pushed the Biden administration to label Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism.”
According to the U.S. Department of State website, “countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” are designated to be state sponsors of terrorism and are subject to unilateral sanctions. Sanctions also apply to persons and countries engaged in certain trade with state sponsors of terrorism, according to the website.
Currently, the U.S. has designated four countries as state sponsors of terrorism, including Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria.
“You label Putin’s Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism [and] you create international tribunals so we actually can try Putin and his cronies in the international court like we did after World War II,” Graham told ABC.
Graham and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced a bill in the upper chamber last September that, if passed, would designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. The Biden administration, however, has shown reluctance to proceed with this designation.
In a press briefing in September 2022, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the designation would not be “the most effective or strongest path forward … to hold Russia accountable” and could carry “unintended consequences” such as affecting “the ability to deliver assistance in areas of Ukraine.”
In November 2022, the European Union recognized Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The China Issue
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) gestures while speaking to Chinese leader Xi Jinping during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Sept. 16, 2022. (Sergei Bobylev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
U.S. lawmakers, including Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), have voiced concerns that the ever-increasing U.S. military aid to Ukraine would incur opportunity costs on another strategic front: deterring China in the Indo-Pacific.
According to Hawley, the United States’s current commitment to delivering military aid to Ukraine is taking a toll on the nation’s ability to aid Taiwan, a self-ruled Chinese liberal democracy, from aggression by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP has announced clear intentions to claim Taiwan as its own territory.
“The Chinese Communist Party understands that if our resources are tied up in Ukraine, those are resources we can’t use to deter a Taiwan invasion. As Napoleon said, ‘If you want to take Vienna, take Vienna.’ China wants control of the Indo-Pacific, and we must stop them there,” the lawmakers said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation in February.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) delivers remarks during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, on March 21, 2022. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
“And yet Congress has poured billions of dollars into Ukrainian defenses, at a time when the American people are still dealing with sky-high inflation. And there’s no end in sight,”Hawley said.
“The core problem is that our actions in Ukraine are directly affecting our ability to project force elsewhere,” he added. “Specifically, to deter China in the Pacific … All of this means that when we pour our military power into Ukraine, that decision comes at a cost.” » …