If Russian President Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine, he won’t stop there, a top Republican voice in Congress on national security issues said Friday.
Speaking at the Hudson Institute, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Michael R. Turner said that Ukraine poses no military threat to Russia, and that the NATO alliance has no interest in attacking Russia. Putin’s motivation, the Ohio Republican contended — and which Putin has stated publicly — is to reclaim for Russia all of the territory that once constituted the former Soviet Union.
“Sometimes, we should listen to our adversaries,” said Turner, who is also a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.
If he seizes control of Ukraine, Putin could then turn to the Baltics, where former Soviet states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are now members of the NATO alliance. If that happens, the United States would be drawn into the conflict via its Article 5 commitment to defend other NATO members, and there could be open war between two major nuclear powers, Turner said.
“If they do this, he’s not stopping,” Turner said of invading Ukraine. “He said he wasn’t, and that means that the remainder of the nations that used to be part of the Soviet Union, those in the Warsaw Pact, are now at risk.”
Calling out Biden, Germany
Turner cited a 2016 study by the Rand Corp. that suggested that the Baltic states could fall quickly, and that NATO might be unable to defend its most exposed members from a Russian incursion.
Turner is on his way to the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of politicians, diplomats, and military leaders in Germany where national security issues are hashed out in public and private conversations.
He criticized the Biden administration for not doing more to get lethal weapons to Ukraine more quickly, and for claiming that NATO is unified in its opposition to a potential Russian incursion when Germany has been dragging its feet on the issue.
“You see Germany blocking other nations’ ability to send weapons” to Ukraine, he said. Lithuania wanted to send surface-to-air missiles through NATO, and Estonia wanted to send German-made weapons, but Germany hindered both efforts.
When the United Kingdom wanted to send aid, it flew around Germany to avoid being denied permission for overflights, Turner said.
Without the consensus needed to act decisively, with Germany as the major dissenter within NATO, “it really shows an opportunity for Putin and it shows our weakness,” he said.
Polls in Ukraine continue to demonstrate overwhelming support for its independence and opposition to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, Turner noted. If there was a substantial minority in favor of reuniting with Russia, now would be the time for it to speak up and erode support for the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but that hasn’t happened.
So while Russia may have amassed enough troops to defeat Ukraine’s military and topple its government, there would remain a sizable population to act as an insurgency in opposition to Russian occupation, he said.
“I believe that this is going to be much more difficult for Russia than they think,” Turner said. “I think this would be a very, very long, protracted conflict.”