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Why Mitt Romney says a Russian invasion of Ukraine is an ‘appetizer’ for Vladimir Putin

Russia has tens of thousands of troop at its border with Ukraine

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Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations to examine U.S.-Russia policy with testimony from Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of state for political affairs, on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Washington.

Alex Brandon, Associated Press

A potential Russian invasion of Ukraine might be just the start of an effort by President Vladimir Putin to reestablish the old Soviet Union, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney says.

“As I look at Russia, I’m concerned that their ambition does not stop with Ukraine. Putin’s ambition, personally, is much broader and what happens in Ukraine is an appetizer for a growing appetite on his part,” Romney said in a Senate committee hearing Tuesday.

Russia is amassing tens of thousands of troops along its border with Ukraine in what U.S. officials say could be the prelude to an invasion.

“It’s obviously a very hostile act,” Romney, R-Utah, said Wednesday on KSL Newsradio. He said it’s “outrageous” for Russia to threaten a sovereign nation without provocation in an attempt to strengthen its own hand and economy.

Romney likened it to China’s threats to Taiwan.

“We’re seeing some of the world’s worst actors acting out in a way that, frankly, we haven’t seen on this scale since the Second World War,” he said. “This is a very troubling development.”

President Joe Biden, who spoke with Putin for two hours by videoconference Tuesday, vowed Wednesday to impose unprecedented sanctions should Russia launch an assault against Ukraine. Biden ruled out sending U.S. troops to defend Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion.

“I was very straightforward. There were no minced words. I was polite, but I made it very clear. If, in fact, he invades Ukraine, there will be severe consequences. Severe consequences. Economic consequences like none he’s ever seen or ever have been seen, in terms of being imposed,” Biden said.

Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart said Putin has been sizing up the will of Biden since the day he took office.

“America needs to start responding with more than strongly worded statements,” said Stewart, who could become the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.

Romney said he’s “not inside Putin’s mind” and doesn’t know what his intentions are going forward, but believes the Russian president recognizes there is a substantial downside to invading Ukraine.

“Putin is going to have to recalculate whether it’s worth it for him to go in and make this move,” he said. “But make no mistake, Russia will continue to threaten its neighbors and to invade its neighbors in order to replace governments and put in place puppets. Putin wants to establish the old Soviet Union in a new way.”

In the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Romney asked U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland what she thinks is Putin’s ambition. She, too, said she doesn’t want to get into his head, but pointed to Putin’s statements about Russia and Ukraine being one country and lamenting the downfall of the Soviet Union.

But, she said, she firmly believes Russian citizens do not want a war.

“They don’t want body bags coming home,” said Nuland, who recently visited Russia. “They want better health care, better schools, better roads, better broadband. They want to live better. ... I hope he thinks about what he owes his own people before seeking to acquire more territory.”

Ukraine is among the countries exploring a bid to host the 2030 Winter Games.

Romney was mocked during his 2012 presidential campaign for calling Russia the “No. 1 geopolitical foe” of the United States.

On Wednesday, he said Russia continues to be an adversary that pushes authoritarianism around the world, but China with its emerging military and economic power is the biggest long-term threat to the U.S.

Romney said one of the Biden administration’s “very bad” foreign policy decisions was to allow Russia to complete the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline that runs from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, saying it weakens Ukraine and it strengthens Russia. Gas is not yet flowing through the pipeline.

Biden sees the pipeline as a bargaining chip as Russia threatens Ukraine.

“If Vladimir Putin wants to see gas flow through that pipeline, he may not want to take the risk of invading Ukraine,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House.

Sullivan said the U.S. has talked with the outgoing and incoming German governments about Nord Stream 2 in regards to a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.