Sen. James Risch on Moscow’s claims of de-escalation and looming sanctions over Ukraine

U.S. officials remain worried a Russian invasion could still happen any day in Ukraine. But Russia says it has no intention to invade, while the West accuses Russia of not following through on pulling back its troops from the border. Republican Sen. James Risch, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for a closer look at the Ukraine crisis, we are joined by Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho. He is the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

    Senator Risch, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    We just heard Secretary Antony Blinken saying, what the Russians say is different from what they do. My question to you, is that what you are seeing, that the Russians claim they're withdrawing, when they're really not in any significant way?

  • Senator James Risch (R-ID):

    First of all, Judy, it's good to be with you again. Thanks for having me on. I'd put it a little more plainly than the secretary of state did. He is, after all, the secretary of state and head diplomat. The Russians lie. And I don't know how they can look in the camera and tell the world they have no intention of invading, and they have amassed the largest invasion force that the world has seen in decades.

    So, look, the world doesn't believe it. Nobody wants war. Everybody would like to see it avoided. The Ukrainians, I think, are in a different position than they were when Russia went into Crimea.

    At that time, Poland was actually showing the Ukrainian people having a favorable view of Russia at about 85 percent. Today, that's reversed. It's only about 15 percent. I think if they do go into the Ukraine, the best day they're going to have is the first day. And then, after that, it's going to turn into a resistance movement.

    And they have received enough arms from us and other people in — other of our allies in Europe to make this a very, very troublesome venture for the Russians.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And one other quick question to button that up.

    We heard Vladimir Putin say yesterday he was interested, possibly, in negotiating with the U.S. on important matters. Do you see any sign of any diplomatic progress?

  • Senator James Risch:

    I don't. I haven't heard of any. I think I would have if they were ongoing.

    But, look, Judy, what — I don't know what there is to negotiate. What Vladimir Putin put on the table were absolute nonstarters for us and all 29 of our NATO allies. He wanted to say who was going to get NATO and who doesn't. Our NATO charter is very clear that we're open to anybody who wants to come in. And we support any country that wants to come in, if they meet the criteria.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me ask you, Senator, about the sanctions that you and other Republicans have put forward — you made it public yesterday — to be imposed on Russia.

    This is after weeks that you and others were negotiating a bipartisan set of sanctions. What exactly is different about the Republican-only proposal?

  • Senator James Risch:

    Well, first of all, it's 91 pages' long, and there were a lot of portions that were negotiated back and forth.

    What it really came down to was, I think it was just a good-faith disagreement on how strong the sanctions should be. My bill, as you will see, specifically states that there will be secondary sanctions placed on Russian banks. That brings the Russian economy to a halt, an end, period. Money doesn't change hands. It doesn't move across the international borders.

    It would be extremely painful and debilitating to Russia. The other side had a different view. They want the primary sanctions where you simply seize assets that are here in the United States. That's a good idea. We should do that, but that doesn't bring the — that doesn't bring the economy to its knees, which the — Moscow needs to understand, if they do invade, that's what's going to happen, and those are the sanctions that are going to be put on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Senator, with the clock ticking, the question becomes, is it possible that by the time — and the Russians could be moving within days, as you yourself have said, by the time these sanctions kick in.

    Is it worth setting up a new set of proposals, when time is of the essence, and, frankly, including language that Democrats say is going to be seen by some of our European allies as undermining them?

  • Senator James Risch:

    Yes. Well, there's a lot to unpack in that question.

    But let me just say that the sanctions, there are some sanctions that go in pre-invasion right now in my bill. It is primarily on individuals. The sanctions against the Russian banks and against the Russian country and the government and the banking institutions do not go into effect until after there is an invasion.

    The whining going on about there's a fear that it will affect other countries negatively, there are businesses here in the United States and in Europe that would be affected. But that's why it has waiver provisions in it, so it can be done surgically and hurts the people it is intended to hurt, to bring down the people it's intended to bring down, but to allow those that should not be hurt to be — to escape the sanctions.

    That's what waiver provisions do, and they're in there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two very quick questions, Senator.

    One is, we know President Biden has repeatedly said that harsh, strict, stiff penalties will be imposed on Russia if they move. Why isn't that good enough?

  • Senator James Risch:

    That is good enough.

    He will be reaching for my bill and the kind of sanction also that are in my bill. And if he wants to do what he has described with those adjectives, that's my bill.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And last question.

    As you know, your Democratic counterpart, Bob Menendez, who is the chairman of the committee, said today when — or yesterday, when he saw the Republican proposal — and I'm quoting — he said: "It's a shame Senate Republicans have decided to choose partisan posturing, instead of working to reach a consensus on this."

    How do you answer that at a time when — again, when we're seeing what could be Russian movement any day now?

  • Senator James Risch:

    Yes, well, we negotiated in good faith. I think Bob was negotiating in good faith. I was.

    He had previously introduced the Democrat position. We were unable to come to an agreement, as I've described previously. So, I introduced what is our position.

    This is — if Moscow is listening in — and I suspect they may be — this is not a Republican-Democrat fight. This problem is an American problem. And if there is an invasion, there will be sanctions, as described by the president and described by my bill with secondary sanctions. Moscow should understand at.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You don't think this sends a signal a disunity on the part of the Americans?

  • Senator James Risch:

    It should not.

    Anyone who understands how these things work will listen to what we say and what the president has said. And that is that there will be very dilatory — debilitating sanctions that are put on Russia that will cause great difficulty for Putin at home.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Jim Risch, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator, thank you very much.

  • Senator James Risch:

    Thank you.

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