Sen. Rand Paul clashed with Secretary of State Antony on Tuesday as he claimed the Biden administration had pushed Vladimir Putin into invading Ukraine, by supporting its bid to join N.A.T.O., and that Moscow’s aggression could be explained by the fact it was attacking former Soviet Union members.
His comments brought quick accusations that the Republican was parroting Kremlin talking points.
And during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee it brought heavy pushback from Blinken amid discussion of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Paul said the administration should not have publicly backed Ukraine’s wish to join N.A.T.O. in September last year.
Blinken and other officials, he said, had ‘been beating the drums to admit Ukraine” to the alliance.
‘There could have been voices before this invasion instead of agitating for something that we knew our adversary absolutely hated and said was a red line, as recently as last September, before you signed the agreement once again agitating for N.A.T.O. Russia said that it was a red line,’ said Paul.
‘Now there is no justification for the invasion. I’m not saying that. But there are reasons for the invasion.’
Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday criticized the Biden administration for ‘beating the drums’ to admit Ukraine to N.A.T.O., suggesting it was the reason for Russia’s invasion
Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed back on Paul’s claims, saying Moscow invaded because Vladimir Putin did not believe in Ukraine’s right to exist independently
Firefighters work extinguishing a fire on a commercial area following a rocket hit in Saltivka neighborhood, Kharkiv City, Ukraine
The Kremlin and its allies have frequently said they were concerned at N.A.T.O. expansion in eastern Europe and cited it as one of the reasons for the military buildup around Ukraine before the invasion.
Paul continued to say that N.A.T.O. membership could have meant U.S. soldiers fighting with Russia.
‘Had they been or are they to become part of NATO. that means US soldiers will be fighting in Ukraine and that’s something I very much oppose,’ he said.
Blinken disputed his claims.
‘My judgement is different,’ he said.
‘If you look at the countries that Russia has attacked over the last years – Georgia, leaving forces in Transnistria, Moldova, and then repeatedly Ukraine – these were countries that were not part of N.A.T.O.
‘It has not attacked N.A.T.O. countries for probably a very good reason.’
Paul responded. ‘You could also argue the countries they have attacked were part of Russia… ‘ he said before correcting himself: ‘Part of the Soviet Union.’
Blinken said: ‘I firmly disagree with with that proposition. It is the fundamental right of these countries to decide their own future and their own destiny.’
Paul again says the countries in question had been members of the Soviet Union for decades before its collapse.
‘But that does not give Russia the right to attack them,’ said Blinken. ‘On the contrary.’
He said the U.S. had sought to engage Putin about Moscow’s concerns but it came to nothing.
Ukrainian servicemen fire with a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch system, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Luhansk Region, Ukraine April 26
Western nations have upped the supply of heavy weapons in the past couple of weeks to counter the threat from Russia. Here pro-Russian troops are seen atop an armoured vehicle in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 21
‘It is abundantly clear in President Putin’s own words that this was never about Ukraine, being potentially part of N.A.T.O.,’ he added.
‘And it was always about his belief that Ukraine does not deserve to be a sovereign, independent country that it must be reassumed into Russia in one form or another.’
Several conservatives have criticized the Biden administration for supporting Ukraine’s ambition to join N.A.T.O.
Earlier U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that ‘saber rattling’ rhetoric from Moscow and threats of nuclear war were ‘very dangerous and unhelpful.’
During a visit to Germany he hit back at Russia’s top diplomat Sergei Lavrov who said that Western leaders risked a third world war by supplying heavy weapons to Ukraine.
‘That kind of rhetoric is very dangerous and unhelpful,’ Austin said.
‘Nobody wants to see a nuclear war happen. It’s a war where all sides lose.
‘And so rattling of sabers and, you know, dangerous rhetoric is clearly unhelpful and something that we won’t engage in.’
Austin spoke after hosting defense talks at Ramstein Air Base involving more than 40 countries seeking to speed and synchronize supply of weapons to Kyiv.
Several nations have stepped up the supply of long range weapons – such as howitzer artillery systems – as the war enters a crucial new phase and Russia focuses on the eastern Donbas region.
Austin was also asked about his recent controversial comments that the U.S. wanted to ‘weaken’ Russia, and he did not back down.
‘We do want to make it harder for Russia to threaten its neighbours and leave them less able to do that,’ he said.
Moscow’s war machine had been badly degraded by 62 days of war, he continued.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin slammed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for spreading dangerous rhetoric on Tuesday. ‘That kind of rhetoric is very dangerous and unhelpful,’ he said during a visit to Germany, a day after Lavrov accused N.A.T.O. of waging a proxy war in Ukraine, bringing the ‘very serious’ risk of a nuclear confrontation
Pro-Russian troops, including fighters of the Chechen special forces unit, stand in front of the destroyed administration building of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol
‘They’ve lost a lot of a lot of equipment. They’ve used a lot of precision guided munitions,’ he said.
‘They’ve lost a major surface combatant [vessel], and so they are in fact, in terms of military capability, weaker than when it started.
‘It’ll be harder for them for them to replace some of this capability as they go forward because of the sanctions and the trade restrictions that have been placed on them.
‘And so we would like to make sure again, that they don’t have the same type of capability to bully their neighbours that we that we saw at the outset of this of this conflict.
Earlier Lavrov, claimed N.A.T.O. was now fighting a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine, bring a ‘very serious’ risk the conflict could go nuclear.
Speaking on Russian state TV on Monday night, accused Western leaders of risking a third world war by supplying heavy weapons to Ukraine with the goal of ‘wearing down the Russian army’ – an aim he described as an ‘illusion’.
Accusing NATO and its allies of attempting to bully Russia on the international stage, Lavrov said that tensions between east and west are now worse than during the Cuban missile crisis at the height of the Cold War.
Asked directly about the possibility of a nuclear war, he replied: ‘The risks are very significant. I do not want the danger to be artificially inflated [but] it is serious, real. It cannot be underestimated.’