Republican Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton criticized President Joe Biden’s immediate response to Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine on Monday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had signed a document on Monday to recognize two Ukrainian separatist areas as sovereign, and therefore separate from Ukraine. Russia then sent troops across Ukraine’s borders under the pretext of protecting those separatist areas — known as the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR or DNR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR or LNR) — from a Ukrainian attack.
In the Biden White House’s initial response to Russia’s actions, a White House official speaking during an official background call acknowledged Russia had sent troops into the separatist parts of Ukraine, but stopped short of calling those actions an invasion. Instead, the official said “Russian troops have continued to move closer to the border in what looks like plans for an invasion.” When asked whether Russia sending troops into the separatist region constitutes a new invasion, the official repeatedly said Russia sending troops into the separatist regions “would not itself be a new step” because Russian troops have already been in those areas, albeit secretively, for years.
“President Biden’s timid sanctions tonight are wholly unequal to this moment,” Cotton said Monday in an emailed statement to American Military News. “Russia is invading Ukraine now. The time has come for the ‘swift and severe’ sanctions that Joe Biden has long threatened but refused to impose. There is not a minute to lose.”
On Tuesday morning, deputy national security adviser Jon Finer formally described the actions Russia is currently undertaking as an “invasion,” signifying a shift in their description of Russia’s actions.
Since Monday, multiple Biden administration officials had said the U.S. would issue new sanctions against Russia — something that Biden ultimately announced Tuesday afternoon. The new sanctions prohibit new investment, trade, and financing by Americans to, from, or in the separatist regions of Ukraine.
Cotton had criticized the Biden administration for waiting to impose sanctions, even before Putin’s actions on Monday.
In a Sunday interview with Fox News host Maria Bartiromo, Cotton said, “If President Biden was interested in deterring a Russian invasion of Ukraine, he should have imposed sanctions months ago—not waited for Russia to go for the jugular.”
In his Sunday segment, Cotton said he already expected Russia would invade, given it had gathered nearly 200,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders and had begun stockpiling medical supplies and blood. Cotton, a former Army infantry officer, said, “I can tell you, as someone who has planned some military exercises in my life, you don’t usually stockpile blood for an exercise.”
Cotton said “so-called” joint Russian-Belarusian military drills in Belarus are “nothing more than classic Russian camouflage and deception, designed to give a reason for this massive buildup” of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders.
Cotton said by not acting earlier on the signs of an invasion, “President Biden has once again put us on the backfoot and ceded the initiative to Vladimir Putin.”
Cotton noted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s reaction after Biden said on Friday that he believes Putin had already made the decision to invade. “If Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are convinced that Vladimir Putin is prepared to invade, what are they waiting for?”
Cotton said he has supported sanctions against Russia for months as a deterrent to an invasion, but said Biden was instead waiting for Putin to act first.