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Lawmaker Says U.S. Must Go Beyond Sanctions With Russia


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Pro-Russian separatists have taken over several government buildings in cities in eastern Ukraine, along the Russian border. Ukrainian officials are calling this an act of aggression, although Russia denies involvement. Yesterday, the White House issued a statement calling on Russian president Vladimir Putin to cease all efforts to destabilize Ukraine. Some on Capitol Hill have been calling for a stronger U.S. response to the crisis. Among them is Republican Mike Rogers. He is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He joins me now on the line. Congressman, thanks very much for being with us.

CONGRESSMAN MIKE ROGERS: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: The Russian government has said it is not responsible for the separatist takeovers we've seen in eastern Ukraine. Do you believe that?

ROGERS: I do not. So what we believe is happening is they're putting their intelligence officers in some Spetsnaz, their special forces, not wearing Russian uniforms. And they're there to foment violence, to try to stir the pot, commit acts of sabotage, to try to be as disruptful as they can to normal operations and governance in eastern Ukraine.

MARTIN: You have said in recent weeks that the United States needs to be more aggressive, both in support of Ukraine and against Russia. What does that mean? What does that look like?

ROGERS: Well, we can do this without combat support, meaning we don't - this is not about putting troops on the ground or sending in the 101st Airborne Division - none of that or nothing close to that. But the Ukrainians and especially the military is asking for certain things that they are having a hard time functioning on their own - medical supplies. The president did sign off and send in some meals ready to eat, also called MREs, for soldiers who are stationed out in the field, radios and communication gear so they can get better command and control of the troops that they do have.

Those are - and intelligence sharing, by the way, I would add, was part of that, and trade. So if we put a package together to do those things, I think it would make a tremendous impact, not only on the morale of Ukrainian soldiers who are trying to send this thing off, but also it sends a pretty clear message to Moscow that America is just not going to walk away from a democratically elected Ukraine.

MARTIN: Do you think U.S. officials have a good grip on what Russia's ambitions are? I mean, do you believe Vladimir Putin when he says Russia has no designs on Ukraine beyond Crimea?

ROGERS: I don't. I think that there, there's strategic land bridges. And I'll give you an example, from Crimea across the top of the Black Sea to Moldova. And there's a little strip of land between Moldova and Ukraine called Transnistria. I believe that they're very, very interested, they're - that Transnistria has already voted - that this semi-autonomous region of Moldova has already voted to go into the Russian Federation. It just seems to me that makes a lot of sense for them. And you can see by the positioning of their troops and other things that hey, they certainly, clearly have an interest in our land bridge from Transnistria across the top of the Black Sea over to Crimea.

In the east of Ukraine, it's - I think that they are happy now to try to continue to foment the trouble in eastern Ukraine to either A - get a semi-autonomous region that they can heavily influence or B - have them themselves vote to go into the Russian Federation. Both of those, I think are possible, and I think use patience in this next phase.

MARTIN: Mike Rogers. He's a Republican congressman from Michigan and the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, joining us live on the line this morning. Congressman, thanks so much for taking the time.

ROGERS: Hey, thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.