KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Rep. Chuck Fleischmann painted a grim picture Thursday of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Republican congressman spoke with WATE 6 On Your Side after a briefing that included Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen.
Fleischmann said for months Russian President Vladimir Putin has been been “sabre rattling” and creating a pretext to take at least part of Ukraine. While it seemed for a while that Putin was focusing on two eastern provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, but that seems to have changed.
“This is a massive, massive Russian invasion,” Fleischmann said. “It’s tanks, planes, navy. Originally we thought it was going to be just these two provinces that Putin had chosen as separatist provinces where he thought he would sympathizers. It’s literally all over the country.”
Fleischmann said Russian troops are surrounding several cities, including Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, but Ukrainian troops are “fighting back valiantly.”
When pressed about the number of casualties in Ukraine, Fleischmann declined to get into specifics.
Could Russia go further?
When asked about the threat of Russia attacking more countries in the region, Fleischmann said Putin has been focused solely on Ukraine.
“That would be a very big stretch for him,” Fleischmann said. “My real concern is that it could be very destabilizing in the entire region. We have allies there, Poland, Romania, other countries, that are very, very concerned about this Russian invasion. Right now we don’t know what will happen. We hope this conventional war will go into a cybersecurity war.”
Fleischmann, the Homeland Security ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, also talked with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Thursday concerning cybersecurity attacks on Ukraine that occurred before Russia invaded the country. The two discussed how the attacks were made but also how a similar attack could be avoided in the United States.
Sanctions and economic impact in the US
President Joe Biden announced sanctions on Thursday against Russian banks, businesses and oligarchs, as well as their ally Belarus. NATO countries and other American allies across the world levied similar sanctions. Fleischmann said it was a good first step but he worries if it will be enough to change Putin’s mind.
“We need to be stern in our resolve,” he said “Our allies, our NATO allies and other allies around the world … are also joining in on sanctions. Hopefully, we will put enough pressure on Putin and on Russia to back away from this.”
The hope, Fleischmann says, is that the sanctions, along with public protests, will force the Russian military to turn around.
“Russia, unlike the United States and China, does not have vast wealth,” he said. “They need access to world capital. I think the strongest way to deter them … is to crimp their ability to get world capital.”
While the sanctions will hurt Russia’s economy it will also affect prices in the United States. Russia is a large producer of oil and Ukraine produces a large amount of wheat and corn, all of which are traded in global commodity markets.
While the U.S. only imports about 4% of its oil from Russia, Fleischmann said it is important for America to wean off foreign energy and become independent. He blamed the Biden administration for thwarting the domestics energy production.