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Bipartisan Congress group calls to ship more weapons to the Ukraine to deter Russia

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

U.S. lawmakers just back from Ukraine are urging the Biden administration to do more now to deter Russia from reinvading its neighbor. The lawmakers are all U.S. veterans, and they say Ukraine needs military help, too. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: With tens of thousands of Russian troops near Ukraine's borders, the Biden administration has been warning Moscow of severe economic consequences if Russia reinvades. But Congressman Michael Waltz, a Florida Republican, says the U.S. needs to act now before it's too late.

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MICHAEL WALTZ: Sanctions need to be going into place now for these destabilizing actions. We need to help Ukraine porcupine themselves and raise the costs now.

KELEMEN: That means beefing up Ukraine's defenses. Waltz says he and his colleagues met with members of the Florida National Guard who are in Ukraine on a training mission. And in their conversation with Ukrainian officials, they heard both appreciation and frustration.

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WALTZ: Appreciation for the lethal aid that has been provided, but frustration that the ongoing packages either haven't been fully approved in Washington or are moving very slowly.

KELEMEN: Arizona Democrat Ruben Gallego echoed that, calling on the Biden administration to send Ukraine more anti-tank missiles and other weapons.

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RUBEN GALLEGO: If the Ukrainians can convince Russia that an occupation would be bloody and it will be long and it'll be protracted, I don't believe Putin will move in.

KELEMEN: The Biden administration says it has committed more than $450 million in security assistance to Ukraine this year and will continue that. Some experts worry this will further provoke Russia, though Samuel Charap of the RAND Corporation calls it a sideshow.

SAMUEL CHARAP: We're not talking about the kinds of weapons deliveries that could possibly level the balance between the Russian military and the Ukrainian military. It's just not a fair fight.

KELEMEN: He says the Biden administration is right to focus on diplomacy with Russia, though Charap, speaking via Skype, is pessimistic about that, too.

CHARAP: If they're bent on war, there's no amount of diplomacy, frankly, or even deterrence that could stop them. But I think that, you know, the administration is clearly mounting a diplomatic effort.

KELEMEN: He says Russia wants guarantees that Ukraine will never become part of NATO and is now also demanding a broader deal on European security. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Karen Donfried was in Moscow today receiving Russian proposals on that.

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KAREN DONFRIED: I will take these ideas back to Washington and also share them with our allies and partners. All of these engagements reinforce President Biden's goal to create a stable and predictable relationship between our two countries.

KELEMEN: Ukrainians are worried about the kind of deal that Russia wants, says Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton, who was on that congressional delegation to Kyiv.

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SETH MOULTON: What Putin has put on the table as his view of a diplomatic solution to this crisis is completely unacceptable, both to the West, to us and to our NATO allies, but also to Ukraine.

KELEMEN: Assistant Secretary Donfried will consult with NATO's allies in Brussels tomorrow, and she's trying to reassure everyone that the U.S. won't, as she puts it, negotiate about Ukraine without Ukraine.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.