As Russian forces bombard and advance on Ukraine, Utah members of Congress called for President Joe Biden to impose the strongest possible sanctions on Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin.

But none are suggesting the U.S. send troops into the war.

At the same time, at least one U.S. senate candidate in Utah is attacking his incumbent opponent over his past opposition to sanctions against Putin and Russia.

“The world is now witnessing the true evil that is Vladimir Putin,” Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, tweeted Thursday morning.

“And as we witness this evil, the U.S. and our allies must stand resolute with the Ukrainian people and resolve to provide them with support to defend against this unprovoked, unforgivable attack.”

On Thursday, Biden announced sanctions on four major Russian banks and export controls on Russia to curtail its high-tech imports. The sanctions also target 10 Russian individuals, including those close to Putin and elites working in the financial sector.

“Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war, and now he and his country will bear the consequences,” Biden said. 

The president also said the U.S. is taking steps to protect NATO allies in Eastern Europe, but reiterated that does not include American military intervention in Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO.

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Stewart said any new sanctions along with export controls should be strong enough to cripple Russia’s ability to make war. The U.S. and its allies should also be sending small arms, explosives and communication equipment to support a Ukrainian insurgency, he said.

Putin, who Stewart called a “KGB thug,” is afraid of a bloody, prolonged war with resistance fighters “that kill Russian soldiers day after day and week after week,” the congressman said.

“The only thing that could have dissuaded him is if our president and our NATO allies had said we will arm and equip and support Ukrainian freedom fighters, we will support a Ukrainian resistance. Well, we’re beyond that now,” Stewart told KSL NewsRadio’s “Dave and Dujanovic.”

China, Iran and North Korea are watching with similarly malevolent intentions, he said, adding those countries must see the U.S. respond firmly to Russia’s “reprehensible aggression.”

“The mistake the West has made for more than a decade is to think an autocratic bully can be a reasonable geopolitical partner,” Stewart said. “Putin doesn’t want to be part of the current international order. He wants to blow it up.”

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, is traveling in Europe with the Conservative Climate Caucus this week and was in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday.

“The mood is somber, and almost surreal, like this can’t be happening,” he said. “But it is happening and those in Europe know that this has heavy consequences for them, and really for the rest of the world.”

Curtis said the U.S. and its allies must “hold nothing back” as they escalate financial pressure and sanctions on Russia.

“All freedom-loving nations should support Ukraine in their effort to combat this violation of international law, including sharing equipment to support their self-defense. We must act swiftly and firmly to make clear that acts like this will not be tolerated,” he said.

Curtis said that action does not include sending American troops to Ukraine.

“The sentiment here is that if one U.S. soldier went into combat we would enter a third world war, so nobody is suggesting that. I don’t think that any of us want that,” Curtis told KSL NewsRadio’s “Dave and Dujanovic.”

Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, who is in Israel, called the Russian attack on Ukraine abhorrent and unjustified.

Biden, he said, should have implemented tougher sanctions on Russia and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline before Putin’s forces started firing on Kyiv.

“I believe that Putin advances when he senses weakness,” Moore said in a statement. “That is why he acted to extend Russia’s borders during the Obama administration and is now trying it again even more forcefully.”

In a statement late Wednesday, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, attributed Putin’s assault on Ukraine to not suffering consequences for past aggression in Crimea and Georgia.

“Putin’s impunity predictably follows our tepid response to his previous horrors in Georgia and Crimea, our naive efforts at a one-sided ‘reset,’ and the shortsightedness of ‘America First.’ The ‘80s called’ and we didn’t answer,” Romney said.

Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, has also called for major sanctions against Russia.

“Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine undermines its territorial sovereignty and violates international law. America stands with Ukraine, our NATO allies, and freedom,” he said in a tweet.

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Independent Senate candidate Evan McMullin called on Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to condemn the attack, saying it’s time for him to “reverse course.”

Lee has enabled Putin’s aggression on the world stage as one of only two members of the Senate to oppose sanctions on Putin and his regime in the past and traveled to Moscow to discuss lifting the sanctions already in place, McMullin said in a statement.

“Now that Putin has launched his invasion of Ukraine and likely slaughter of more innocent Ukrainians, Mike Lee must finally condemn Putin’s aggression and cease his appeasement of this foreign tyrant,” he said.

McMullin said the U.S. and its allies must place “crushing” sanctions on Putin and his regime, supply Ukraine with equipment, training and intelligence necessary to inflict heavy losses on invading Russian forces, bolster their presence in Eastern Europe and isolate Russia globally.

On Thursday, Lee tweeted, “The horror of war has again shown its face in Europe. Putin’s cruel attack on the people of Ukraine is a gross breach of sovereignty. I condemn this violence and evil, and pray for the people of Ukraine.”

Lee also said the Biden administration has left U.S. energy security vulnerable.

“Putin’s military ambition is further emboldened by Russia’s stronghold on the European oil and gas market,” he said.

“Yet, President Biden has crippled U.S. energy security over the last year, and now insists Americans stomach higher prices at the pump as war wages in Europe. President Biden’s policies leave the United States and our allies poorer and vulnerable.”

In 2017, Lee voted against a bipartisan measure to impose sanctions on Russia for cyberattacks and meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Lee said at the time that a Russian sanctions amendment to the bill included programs and policies that are not effective at addressing problems in the U.S.-Russia relationship and have promoted progressive policies unrelated to countering Russia at the expense of American taxpayers.

During a trip to Moscow in 2019, Lee discussed loosening sanctions against Russia with Russian Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev, the Russian-run news outlet Tass reported in 2019.

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“He didn’t waste much in getting to some of the grievances that he’s got. He complained almost right off the bat about Russian sanctions,” Lee told the Deseret News after returning from Moscow.

Kosachev emphasized during the lengthy meeting that while U.S. sanctions might hurt the Russian economy, they’re not going to change Russia’s political calculus, Lee said.

Lee said he pointed out that election meddling doesn’t help the relationship, especially on the scale Russia attempted in 2016. Kosachev, he said, became defensive and said, “Oh, well, meddling happens. He tried to say you guys do it, too.”

“I pushed back hard on that,” the senator said.

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