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Sen. Sullivan supports sending more military aid to Ukraine

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

One ongoing question for the U.S. and its allies is this - how much military help should be sent to Ukraine to allow the country to continue to defend itself against the Russian invasion? Views on this have been shifting. Today, the European Union announced it will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to Ukraine. This follows moves by Germany and the U.S. to send more military aid and hardware to Ukraine as well. For additional perspective on this, we called Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican from Alaska. He sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he's with us now. Senator, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

DAN SULLIVAN: Thank you, Michel. Good to be on the program.

MARTIN: So you're just actually back from security consultations in Europe. Any top-line thoughts about what those discussions were like and any conclusions that you came to?

SULLIVAN: Well, I think we're clearly seeing dangerous times right now, whether you're - obviously in Ukraine, but for the NATO countries on the front lines near this conflict. And just the statements today - increasingly seems that Putin is becoming almost unhinged with his public statements. But, you know, Michel, it's also a time where we're seeing a lot of courage. I had the opportunity to meet with parliamentarians and ministers, the mayor of Kyiv, all from Ukraine, when I was in the Munich Security Conference. And one of the things we - we said, God forbid, if there is a war that it's going to be important for the Ukrainian people to fight, and that's what you're seeing right now. And I think we're seeing a lot of courage there. I think we're seeing a lot of courage even with our own American media reporting on the front lines. So I would say from the perspectives I saw, there's a lot of NATO unity on this, which is important.

MARTIN: I'm going to get to that in a minute. I did want to talk a bit just focusing on Ukraine at the moment because the U.S. and its allies are starting to ramp up some serious military assistance for Ukraine. But the U.S. could do more. What is your assessment of the balance that the administration has struck so far, putting more focus on economic sanctions rather than emphasis on military assistance?

SULLIVAN: Well, I think - and I've been a proponent for a very long time of making sure the Ukrainians had defensive military weapons that they could use to defend themselves, particularly Stinger missile systems and the Javelin missile system that they can use to actually take out Russian armor. I will say that I - and many other senators, both Democrats and Republicans - when we we were in Munich, there was a big bipartisan CODEL. There's strong support for the actions that this - that the Biden administration has taken with our NATO allies to send more troops on the front - for the front-line NATO countries, like the Baltics, like Poland. And I'm very supportive of that. I also think drawing the line at we are not sending troops to Ukraine is the smart approach right now.

MARTIN: I want to talk more about that. One of the reasons we called you, frankly, is that you've devoted a lot of thought to U.S. defense capabilities in your state, Alaska. And I'm not sure that everybody thinks about this, but you certainly think about this, that Russia is not too far away from Alaska across the Bering Strait. Are you at all concerned about the possibility of a Russian military operation near your state?

SULLIVAN: Well, it's a great question, Michel. In my seven years in the Senate, one thing I have been focused on relentlessly is the very significant Russian buildup of its military capabilities in the Arctic. And just like they're acting in Ukraine, they have increasingly increased military capabilities in the Arctic and increased aggressive actions. To me, the most important way you deal with Putin is not through talk. It is through demonstrations of power. And that's why I've been a strong proponent of a military buildup in our Arctic. That's the one thing he understands. He understands energy. He understands military power. But we have a long way to go. Russia has 54 icebreakers, many of which are armed, some of which are nuclear. We have two, and one is broken.

MARTIN: You just said a minute ago that you feel that the defensive posture is the right posture for the United States to maintain, that the line that the United States has drawn is the correct one at this moment. But is there - do you have a red line where you would recommend that U.S. forces join the fight in some fashion, either air support a naval blockade, even troops? Is there a red line? Do you have one?

SULLIVAN: I have not been for a - for U.S. troops in Ukraine. They're not a member of NATO. I think the correct area of focus is on our NATO allies who are on the front lines of this conflict while continuing to provide defensive weapon systems, ammunition and crushing economic sanctions. And, again, the big hole in those sanctions to me is energy. And, you know, Michel, that's an area where I've had a lot of disagreements with the Biden administration. I think it's an issue that a lot of people are now starting to recognize, that when you have policies that have been very focused on actually undermining and restricting and delaying the production of American energy, not only has that been driving up energy costs on American families and leading to layoffs of American energy workers, but what that's really done is it's empowered adversaries, particularly like Putin, who uses energy as a weapon and has been doing so for decades.

MARTIN: That was Senator Dan Sullivan. He's a Republican from Alaska. He's a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. And as we said earlier, he's just back from security consultations in Europe. Senator Sullivan, thanks so much for talking with us.

SULLIVAN: Thank you, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEON INDIAN SONG, "ERA EXTRANA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.