Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war on Ukraine as Russian tanks poured over the eastern Ukrainian border early Thursday. Explosions from bombings of civilian centers and airports were reported in major cities across Ukraine including the capital Kyiv. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said more than 137 people had died and hundreds more were injured within the first day of the invasion.
The invading force — several hundreds of thousands of troops that Russia had accumulated on the border for months — exists as the largest military buildup in Europe since World War II. Experts warn the new war could herald an end to 77 years of “the Long Peace.”
Putin’s actions have garnered the ire of state leaders around the world and across the U.S. Wisconsin’s politicians and members of Congress were quick to weigh in.
Republican Senator Ron Johnson spoke out about the issue Thursday morning, denouncing the situation in Ukraine as a “tragedy” for which only “Vladimir Putin and his cronies” may be held responsible.
“They have stolen wealth from the Russian people, destabilized and done great harm to their European neighbors, and now they’ve crossed another line that will yield untold horrors,” Johnson said. “Europe must act with strength and resolve to prevent risking a wider conflict, and the U.S. must support our NATO allies and freedom-loving people in this moment of extreme peril.”
On the other end of the aisle, Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin decried an infringement of sovereignty and called for stricter sanctions on Russia in response to the attack.
“Putin has violated international law, invading a sovereign and democratic nation that wants peace and independence. Putin’s aggression has been met with sanctions, and his violent attack against Ukraine should be met with stronger sanctions, including a full set of punishing financial, technology and military sanctions,” Sen. Baldwin said. “I stand with the Ukrainian people and I believe we need to continue standing strong with our European allies and NATO by providing them the support they need to hold Putin accountable.”
Rep. Bryan Steil (R - Janesville) tweeted that the attack was “unprovoked and unjust” and that it “must be condemned and met with severe consequences” Thursday morning, characterizing Putin’s actions as “evil and ruthless.” U.S. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald echoed that a “comprehensive sanctions package that cripples Putin and his oligarchs” must be imposed.
Rep. Gwen Moore (D - Milwaukee) condemned the invasion as well, lamenting the failure of prior attempts at de-escalation.
“[The invasion] is more troubling when you consider the robust diplomatic efforts by the Biden Administration and the international community conducted in the past weeks to prevent this crisis from escalating,” Rep. Moore remarked. She added that “The United States and its partners and allies must remain unified as they consider options for responding to Russia’s dangerous escalation and for providing support to the people of Ukraine and those displaced from their homeland.”
Rep. Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) stated in a press release that he has been meeting in London with British officials to discuss Russia's actions and possible sanctions. He implored that “Now is the time for the United States and our allies to stand united in condemning Putin's unjustified actions towards Ukraine and hold Russia accountable."
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson specifically released a statement to Irpin, the Ukrainian sister city of Milwaukee.
“Irpin is a community of some 80,000 residents just northwest of Kyiv," Johnson said. “In addition to the formal recognition of sister city status, the Milwaukee-Irpin relationship has been fostered locally by St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church on our city’s south side. We are hopeful that war in Ukraine spares the people of Irpin. We wish for a quick end to hostilities, and a withdrawal of Russian forces.”
Gov. Tony Evers also pitched in regarding the invasion, extending sympathy to “the millions of kids, whose lives have been upended by Russia’s unprovoked invasion.”
"I join leaders across the world in condemning this attack on Ukraine's sovereignty and support efforts to hold Russia accountable," Evers said.
Though bipartisan flak targeted towards the Kremlin appears strong, sentiments about how to approach the issue and who to blame are far more diverse. Many legislators were keen to criticize the White House’s response to the situation.
Earlier this week, Sen. Johnson claimed that "Everything Biden has done since taking office has weakened America" and that the United States' enemies are "taking advantage of the Biden administration’s weakness."
Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua) blamed President Joe Biden’s administration for the disaster in a tweet, asserting that "The events now unfolding in Ukraine are a direct result of failed Biden administration policies that have made Americans poorer while enriching the Putin regime."
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Green Bay) pressed in his statement that the Biden administration wasn't doing enough to stop the Russian advance, comparing the crisis to “the Afghanistan fiasco” and citing “little urgency, creativity or willingness to admit errors and adapt.” He characterized Putin as a “KGB thug who understands no language except force.”
"Deterrence does not just happen with slap on the wrist sanctions or Twitter hashtags from the White House. Deterrence happens because of hard power," he argued in a press release reacting to Biden’s remarks.
Reflecting some pleas put forth by Zelenskyy, Gallagher urged Biden to call an emergency session of Congress to enable expediting arms to Ukraine and its neighbors and to remove Russia from the SWIFT banking system. SWIFT, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, is a Belgian global cooperative of thousands of financial institutions that handles cross-border transfers.
Removal from the system would hamper Russia’s international transactions, including exports that constitute major revenue streams such as oil and natural gas. It has been characterized as a “nuclear option” of sanctions: when the same threat was leveled against Russia during the 2014 invasion of Crimea, then-prime minister Dmitry Medvedev labeled it tantamount to “a declaration of war.”
During his address, Biden announced a series of alternative sanctions and the mobilization of troops through NATO, but said the U.S. would not yet block Russia's access to SWIFT because European countries do not favor the sanction and its possible spillover consequences.
Biden met with other world leaders Thursday morning about the crisis in Ukraine before making his address to the American public. Biden promised to impose numerous severe consequences on Russia for the “unprovoked and unjustified attack,” and vowed to render Putin “a pariah on the international stage.”
Alex Tan is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal specializing in state politics coverage. Follow him on Twitter at @dxvilsavocado.