As Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine hits the one-year mark, one Utah senator favors continued financial support of the battered nation, while the other questions the U.S. sending more money until Europe pays a fair share.

Speaking to the Utah Aerospace and Defense Association on Thursday, Sen. Mitt Romney said the United States should always fully stand behind Ukraine, including providing military aid.

“They make the decisions. We’re not going to tell them what to do. We’re going to be there to support them,” he said.

“We don’t want to start putting in the water the idea that we’re wobbly. That’ll just give Russia and (President Vladimir) Putin the sense that they can do whatever they want because we’re wobbly.”

On Friday, noting that he and Romney don’t always agree, President Joe Biden retweeted a Romney tweet expressing continued support for Ukraine. “But he knows what I know: that standing with Ukraine — and standing up for freedom — advances our national security,” the president wrote.

Mitt Romney says US support of Ukraine is good for Americans

Since the war began Feb. 24, 2022, Congress has approved four separate measures totaling $113 billion for Ukraine.

Romney, R-Utah, said that some wonder if European nations have paid their fair share. He said this isn’t a situation to measure who’s giving what.

“We could hire an accounting firm and assess how much each nation is contributing,” he told reporters after the event, adding the European Union reports that it has invested $74 billion to help Ukraine defend itself.

“We do what we think is in our interest. We don’t spend a lot of time thinking ‘What’s in Europe’s interest?’ We think ‘What’s in America’s interest?’ We believe it’s in our interest.”

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is among those questioning ongoing U.S. financial support for Ukraine.

“First of all, this is a European conflict,” Lee said on Fox News. “Putin’s a bad guy. I hope sincerely that he’s stopped. This cannot be ours to fight nor cannot be ours to fund alone.”

In series of tweets, Lee wrote, “After sending $113 billion to Ukraine in 2022, why should the U.S. even consider sending more until every NATO member (1) has begun spending at least 2% of its GDP on defense, and (2) has spent at least of much of its GDP on Ukraine aid as the U.S. did in 2022?”

He continued, “We’ve made it very easy for Europe to ride on our defense coattails — for far too long — and this has made it very easy for European nations to embrace socialism while neglecting their own defense.”

Utah’s senior senator also questioned whether NATO is taking the war as seriously as the United States.

“We’re constantly told that helping Ukraine is critical to the security of NATO member states, and even to the survival of NATO itself. If that’s true, each member of NATO needs to take this conflict at least as seriously as the United States has, if not more so,” Lee tweeted.

The Poynter Institute’s PolitiFact reported that polls show a rising number of Americans — though well short of a majority — are tiring of U.S. support for Ukraine.

In polls conducted in March, May and September of 2022 and in January of 2023, the Pew Research Center found that the share of respondents who said the U.S. is providing too much support to Ukraine grew steadily, from 7% to 12% to 20% to 26%.

Surveys show that the weakening support is most clearly visible among Republicans, as some congressional Republicans and GOP presidential candidates express skepticism about backing Ukraine, according to PolitiFact.

Romney is clearly not among those Republicans.

“Our investment is made because it’s in our interest. We do not want to see Russia thinking it can start invading other nations because ultimately we’re going to get drawn in if we don’t stop them where they are,” he said.

Romney said 40% of the money the U.S. sends to Ukraine is spent on buying equipment from the U.S., which creates jobs and helps the economy.

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Aaron Starks, president and CEO of the Utah Aerospace and Defense Association, and Sen. Mitt Romney speak at a Utah Aerospace and Defense Association event at the Larry H. Miller Company in Sandy on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Russia and China need to understand that an unprovoked attack on a neighboring country will be met with a response, Romney said.

“Ultimately, there’ll be another Pearl Harbor unless we stop bad actors in their tracks,” he said.

“I believe it’s very much in our interest to see Ukraine succeed, and that means we provide them weapons that they need. We try and gauge this in such a way that we don’t find ourselves at war with Russia. That would not be something we would want to see nor does Russia want to see that.”

Biden and American allies have been steadfast in not sending troops to fight in Ukraine to avoid a nuclear conflict with Russia. The U.S. has also not sent certain types of weapons, including long-range missiles and fighter jets. 

Romney said the U.S. has used a “high degree of sensitivity” to make sure that “we don’t do something that will cause us to get dragged into the war ourselves,” including providing Ukraine weapons that Russia might see as “provocative.”

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As a further reason to back Ukraine, Romney also pointed to a 1994 agreement when the USSR fell in which Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons for assurances it would be a sovereign nation.

“We have a relationship there and one which we are intending to continue to honor,” he said.

Romney said most everyone a year ago expected Ukraine to fall to Russia after the invasion. He praised the courage and passion of the Ukrainian people, military and leadership, saying they have far surpassed expectations. They have held off the “Russian bear in a way that is just hard to recognize as anything other than praiseworthy, courageous. It’s amazing.”

The U.S., he said, will continue to support Ukraine with the weapons systems it needs to defend itself, and how long the war goes on is in large part up to Ukraine.

“They’re the ones that are suffering not just in terms of economic impact but in blood. They’ve lost soldiers. They’ve lost citizens. Their economy is being devastated. Their infrastructure is being devastated. They’re the ones that are shouldering the burden of war and they’re the ones that make the call as to how long this goes on.”