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Vermont’s at-large Congressman discusses Ukrainian crisis

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch (file)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
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Vermont Congressman Peter Welch (file)

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch says the U.S. is committed to supporting Ukraine as Russia invades. And he expects President Biden to address the crisis during his first State of the Union speech tonight.

Welch, an at-large Democrat now running for Senate, spoke to reporters at the airport in Burlington Monday before returning to Washington.

When Russia first invaded Ukraine, Congressman Welch called it a “catastrophe” that would be “disastrous for the Ukrainian people and for peace and stability throughout the world.” He says the U.S. and its allies need to swiftly respond to punish Vladimir Putin and provide humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians.

Over the weekend President Putin put his nuclear arsenals on alert. Welch, who serves on the Intelligence Committee, says while that move is concerning, the intelligence community has been extremely good at providing information about what the Russian leader has been planning.

“I think that was a great decision because we all knew in real time what was going on and it prohibited Putin from being able to create a pretext. But what you’re seeing with Putin putting his forces on nuclear alert is more escalation of the rhetoric. You know as crazy as Putin is and as malicious as he is a nuclear exchange is horrifying to humanity.”

Welch says Congress will be authorizing aid to Ukraine this week.

“We will be doing two things: humanitarian aid of $3 billion and military aid of $3.5 billion. And of course the European Union including Germany in their first decision of this nature since the Second World War will also be providing military aid. And Poland will also be providing military jets to Ukraine. So it’ll be military aid and humanitarian aid.”

The Russian ruble has dropped to less than a penny in value since global sanctions have been imposed on Russia. Welch is impressed with European Union countries who will experience impacts from those sanctions.

“They’ll bear more of the burden internally on their economies with the imposition of sanctions than we will, although we’re going to feel it here as well. But the European Union has stepped forward because they see this as an intolerable threat to peace and stability in Europe.”

Welch added while Putin may shrug off the sanctions, he will not be able to ignore them.

“We’re getting reports that some of the oligarchs are raising questions with Putin. The report of the meeting that Putin had with his economic advisors was as far as Putin was concerned it was nonchalant and was full of bluster. But his economic advisors who have to pick up the pieces as the ruble collapses look very worried and concerned.”

Welch expects the Ukrainian refugees flooding into other countries will want to return as soon as they can.

“You know the stories are moving. You’ve got dads who are taking their partners and their kids to the border and kissing them goodbye and returning to take up the fight. All of us can imagine what it would be like if we were in Burlington or in Rutland or in Brattleboro or in Lyndonville and suddenly we’re getting reports that 15 miles away are these massive tanks and buildings being struck by missiles. We all have families. We have communities that we care about. And that’s the savagery of what Putin is doing.”

Vermont Governor Phil Scott has ordered state liquor and lottery stores to remove Russian-owned products from the shelves and said he will detail later in the week further actions the state will pursue in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Welch approves such moves by Vermont and other states including New Hampshire.

“I’m for it. It’s a symbolic effort but it displays our contempt for the action of Putin and what Russia is doing invading Ukraine.”

Welch had harsh words for Putin apologists in the U.S.

“I was appalled by what former President Trump said basically complimenting Putin for being ‘savvy.’ Savage is the better word.”

President Joe Biden will deliver his first State of the Union address tonight. Congressman Welch anticipates that a major focus will be Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“That’s a real threat to world peace so that will be a major part of his speech I’m sure. He’ll also be talking about the economy and about inflation and about COVID and how we’re moving into a new phase. So the President I’m expecting will be speaking about all of those things.”

Welch is running for the Senate seat opening due to the upcoming retirement of fellow Democrat Patrick Leahy. So far, he faces Republican Christina Nolan, a former U.S. Attorney for Vermont.