Senators grill Biden State Dept. on U.S.-Russia ties

Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, speaks during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations to examine U.S.-Russia policy, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, speaks during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations to examine U.S.-Russia policy, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

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UPDATED 6:38 AM PT – Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Senators on both sides of the aisle are trying to get to the bottom of where Joe Biden stands on the Russia threat. On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee grilled Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland on what the Biden administration is doing to combat Russian aggression.

Reports have come out over the past few weeks claiming Russia is sending troops to the Russia-Ukraine border with international leaders warning Russian President Vladimir Putin may intend to invade his neighbor once again. Nuland said the threat is real, but admitted the State Department doesn’t really know what Putin is planning.

“The intended force, if fully mobilized would be twice of what we saw last spring, including approximately 100 battalion tactical groups or nearly all of Russia’s ready ground forces based west of the the Urals,” explained the undersecretary. “We don’t know whether president Putin has made a decision to attack Ukraine or to overthrow its government, but we do know he’s building the capacity to do so.”

Several Republicans on the panel highlighted a slew of issues related to Russia’s behavior. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio pointed to what he called “anti-western sentiments” coming from Russian actors, something he believes mirrors rhetoric from the former Soviet Union.

Rubio claimed this is bleeding into the international sphere and Russia wants to keep western influence away from its soil by demanding NATO pull troops away from its western border, block neighbor states like Ukraine and Georgia from entering the bloc as well as cease arming Ukrainian troops.

Additionally, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney warned of a second arms race with Russia, claiming Putin is funneling large sums of money into the country’s nuclear programs. Romney alleged the Kremlin is developing their nuclear weapons programs using the same Build Back Better message espoused by the Biden administration.

Ambassador Nuland admitted Russia continues to build its nuclear arsenal and other advanced weapons despite entering a nuclear deal with Joe Biden.

“The New Start Treaty that was negotiated sum 10 years ago and which was extended by the administration caps the long-range nuclear arsenal. But you are right that President Putin continues to augment intermediate-range forces and short-range nuclear forces as well as build new exquisite weapons like his hypersonic, which are outside of any arms control regime.”

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said it was Joe Biden that gave Vladimir Putin his teeth when he lifted sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The controversial pipeline, which has been condemned by both sides of the aisle, is expected to go through Germany and to export oil throughout the European union. American critics have opposed the construction of Nord Stream 2 while stressing it will make American energy obsolete in the region.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations to examine U.S.-Russia policy with testimony from Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations to examine U.S.-Russia policy with testimony from Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

Sen. Cruz emphasized, Putin retreated from his invasion of Ukraine-occupied Crimea in 2014 before Nord Stream 2 was even a thought. According to Cruz, the Russian president averted conflict because the country was heavily dependent on Ukrainian energy infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden reportedly signaled his discontent with Vladimir Putin in a virtual call with the Russian president. Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, claimed the administration is willing to hold the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as a bargaining chip with the hope that threatening of sanctions will compel Putin to withdraw troops. Sullivan added, the current administration is willing to take stronger action against Russian aggression than the Obama administration did in 2014.

“I will look you in the eye and tell you just as President Biden looked Putin in the eye and told him today, that things we did not do in 2014, we are prepared to do now,” state the U.S. national security advisor.

Biden and his foreign policy team are expected to meet with key European allies to discuss the Russian threat, including a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday.

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