Thursday, April 18, 2024

MALLOY: Risch says don’t bail on Ukraine

| March 28, 2023 1:00 AM

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t win many friends in Congress when he dismissed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “territorial conflict,” but may well be the toast of the Kremlin and Russian strongman Vladmir Putin.

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has not commented about DeSantis specifically. But the politicians who are speaking out against Ukraine are getting plenty of attention … in the wrong direction.

“If somebody says ‘I’m against that,’ it not only makes news here, but the statement will go across Putin’s desk,” Risch told me.

Overall, Risch says, support for Ukraine is strong. “Those who had doubts are the same ones who had doubts from the beginning and that is not increasing from what I’ve seen. What has happened is that those who have doubts are speaking up, and they are getting lots of media attention.”

So, don’t look for Risch to be making headlines in Moscow — unless it’s in Idaho. The U.S. commitments to Ukraine have been in place for almost 30 years. The pact was put together a few years after the fall of the Soviet empire.

“An offer was made — you (Ukraine) get rid of your nuclear weapons and we will defend you. Ukraine gave up their nuclear weapons, so we assured them of border security,” Risch said. “So, we have a choice to make. We can keep the agreement we made, or turn our backs and walk away. If we walk away, our standing as the leader of the free world would be diminished, if not evaporated.”

The U.S. is still reeling over the way troops departed from Afghanistan. “Everybody wanted to get out, but not like that. If you add Ukraine to that, the party’s over,” Risch says.

Aid to Ukraine is not a blank check. Risch says he’s had some frank discussions with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, about that country’s reputation for corruption.

“I told him that if you want to see support from the U.S. evaporate, all you have to do is get caught with corruption and it will be the end,” Risch said. “He was not offended, and acknowledged they had a reputation for corruption. He assured me he would take every step to stop that. But to make sure, he’s also aware that we have an army of auditors who track weapons and money, and they are watching everything that is sent to Ukraine. So far, there is no evidence of corruption. Money and weapons are going where they should be going.”

Risch makes no predictions about when the war will end, but he says it’s one that Putin cannot win. Military experts were convinced that the war would last a few weeks, at the most — that is, until they saw how Ukranian troops were willing to fight to the death to keep from being taken over from Russia.

“The performance on the battlefield has been embarrassing for the Russians,” Risch says. “That great and powerful Russian army is not there. They have been beaten by a country that by comparison has sticks and stones.”

Risch gives the Biden administration props for saying and doing the right things, “although it’s not as fast as I’d like to see. I’d like to see the rhetoric ramped up a bit in regard to escalation. I want Putin to wake up in the morning wondering what he would do if there was an escalation on our part. Of course, that’s not what we need to be talking about. We need to arm the Ukranians to the point where they can win this war.”

As Risch sees it, losing is not an option. “Putin will do his best to put the old USSR together again — he’s not living in the 21st century, that’s for sure. Who would start a war in the 21st century, especially in Europe. But that’s what he has done.”

One policy is clear, Risch says. “We will not be putting U.S. troops on the ground, and Ukranians are fine with that.”

However, if Putin decides to attack a NATO country, then all bets are off. Risch doesn’t see Putin going that far. If Russian troops can’t whip Ukraine, they won’t fare any better against the collective forces of the NATO countries.

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Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist and Silver Valley native, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at