Iowa reaction to Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Like many, I’ve been consumed this week by the horrifying news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Although Vladimir Putin and his hostility to democracy occupied a lot of my head space in my “past life” covering Russian politics, I never imagined all those years ago that he would go so far as to annex Crimea, let alone launch a full-scale assault on Ukraine.

Foreign policy and military strategy are not my areas of expertise, so I have no insight on how Putin imagines he could benefit from this invasion. Even if he manages to install a puppet government in Kyiv, how will Russian forces maintain control of Ukraine, and how will the Russian economy weather the crushing sanctions? What’s his endgame?

I reported extensively on Putin’s rise to power in late 1999. Russian President Boris Yeltsin had appointed the virtually unknown security official as prime minister that August. But Putin didn’t become popular until a few months later, through a military campaign in the breakaway Republic of Chechnya. The Russian people broadly supported that war, in part due to slanted media coverage, and also because of apartment bombings (that may have been instigated by Russian security forces) and widespread racist attitudes toward Chechens.

Perhaps Putin hopes to replicate that formula for his political benefit. But I find it hard to believe that any significant share of the Russian population support all-out war against Ukraine. Who really believes that a country with a democratically-elected Jewish president needs to be “denazified” by force?

It’s been more than 30 years since I visited Ukraine’s beautiful capital city and the Black Sea resort town of Sochi. For that matter, I haven’t visited Russia in more than two decades. Even so, I’m heartbroken to see the avoidable loss of life on both sides. Please spare a thought for the citizens of Ukraine—whether they are Ukrainian- or Russian-speaking—because I don’t think anyone outside the Kremlin wants this war.

Most of Iowa’s leading politicians reacted to the invasion on February 24. I’ve compiled their comments after the jump.

Senator Chuck Grassley again demonstrated that he writes his own tweets:

Senator Joni Ernst visited Ukraine as a college student many years ago and has been a member of the Senate’s “Ukraine caucus.” She tweeted,

Later in the day, Ernst issued a written statement that was critical of President Joe Biden’s his February 24 remarks about the invasion and new sanctions:

“The President of the United States’ fundamental obligation is to protect Americans – our families, businesses, and the U.S. economy. President Biden’s announcement today sorely lacked a plan to ensure the safety of thousands of Americans in Ukraine; specific steps to decouple our economic ties to Russia to maintain energy and food security; and, clear protections for American businesses from the threat of cyber-attacks.

“Putin deserves no grace. He is slaughtering innocent people and attempting to overrun a sovereign, freedom-loving nation, and partner of the United States. The administration should not be holding back; our adversaries are certainly not. Kick Russia out of the SWIFT banking system, sanction Putin and his oligarch friends directly, and ensure that Ukraine has the lethal firepower necessary to win this fight. Anything less will not stop this autocratic thug.

“This moment demands American strength and resolve. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to hold Vladimir Putin accountable for this needless bloodshed and, most importantly, ensure the protection of the American people and American interests.”

Ernst did not address former President Donald Trump’s recent assessment of Putin’s policy toward Ukraine as “genius” and “savvy.”

At a February 23 panel discussion, Ernst and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also sought to blame Biden for the current situation.

“We needed to really force the issue on sanctions when it came to Russia. We needed to show strength. We needed to show power,” Ernst said. “That’s what President Putin understands – that’s the only thing that he really understands.”

Ernst and Pompeo criticized Biden for not imposing sanctions against Russia sooner. Pompeo said “failed American leadership” was a major factor leading up to the invasion.

“Vladimir Putin didn’t change. He’s the same guy: he’s evil, he’s an autocrat … What changed was America’s failure to demonstrate resolve,” Pompeo said.

Ernst said Afghanistan also hastened the Russian invasion, as it showed America was “very weak and insecure.” Ernst has been an outspoken critic of the way the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021.

U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-01) tweeted,

A few hours later, Miller-Meeks commented again:

Representative Ashley Hinson (IA-02) tweeted several times about the situation, condemning Putin’s attack, expressing gratitude for the reporters covering the story, and calling for tough sanctions.

Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03) tweeted,

Representative Randy Feenstra (IA-04) tweeted,

Governor Kim Reynolds reacted to the situation this way:

Iowa Democratic Party state chair Ross Wilburn tweeted,

The Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate also reacted to the news. From Abby Finkenauer:

Senate candidate Mike Franken issued the following statement:

“I join President Biden in condemning Russian military’s assault against Ukraine,” said Franken. “I trust that actions from our nation, our NATO allies, and other like-minded nations will be swift, significant, and focused at Russian leadership. We must hold Russia accountable. An international crisis of this magnitude, helped by long-simmering alliances made on the QT, is a gut check for the GOP. I yearn for peace and hope all Americans will unite behind the democracy in Kyiv and not a dictator in Moscow.”

Franken later sent out this email blast:

Russia has invaded the sovereign nation of Ukraine.

It is time now for the United States, along with our allies and other like-minded nations, to stand firm with the people of Ukraine against this unprovoked and unjustified act of war. We must employ the harshest economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation, and punitive measures available.

On my family’s farm in rural northwest Iowa, sometimes a banty rooster would become overly aggressive. We’d soon have him in a soup. Putin reminds me of that rooster.

We have not seen war of this nature in Eurasia since the 1940’s. America must once again be united against this kind of authoritarianism.

Unfortunately, we are still waiting for the GOP to state which side they are on – with a dictator in Moscow or democracy in Kyiv. I wonder, will my opponent Senator Chuck Grassley once again parrot Trump or is he smarter than that?

Maybe this is the moment where Republicans will finally break with Trump and Fox News. I am not holding my breath.

With nearly 4 decades in the U.S. Navy, I know the cost of war. We must do everything we can to achieve peace, but let’s not encourage despots, either.

Please keep the people of Ukraine in your thoughts.

Mike Franken, VADM, U.S. Navy (ret.)

Glenn Hurst called on Iowa to welcome refugees from Ukraine:

Bob Krause has tweeted numerous times about the conflict, sometimes blaming Iowa Republicans for being complicit in Trump’s support for Russia.

Top image by Tomas Ragina available via Shutterstock.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin

  • When those on the Right...

    …who continue to support Putin’s closest ally – Trump – decry what they themselves have enabled and facilitated, it shouldn’t surprise anyone. Trumpublicans are an existential threat to our republic.