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‘Putin will only stop when we stop him’- POLITICO | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack | #hacking | #aihp

With help from Daniel Lippman

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President JOE BIDEN has said time and time again he’ll never deploy U.S. troops to thwart Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But one of his best friends and confidantes is telling multiple audiences: Never say never.

Early last week, Sen. CHRIS COONS (D-Del.) told a virtual forum hosted by the University of Michigan that lawmakers and administration figures should reach a “common position” on when a move to confront Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN’s forces is appropriate. “If the answer is never then we are inviting another level of escalation in brutality by Putin,” he said.

Pressed on that comment by MARGARET BRENNAN Sunday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” Coons replied “this is a critical moment. If Vladimir Putin, who has shown us how brutal he can be, is allowed to just continue to massacre civilians, to commit war crimes throughout Ukraine without NATO, without the West coming more forcefully to [its] aid, I deeply worry that what’s going to happen next is that we will see Ukraine turn into Syria.”

“I think the history of the 21st century turns on how fiercely we defend freedom in Ukraine, and that Putin will only stop when we stop him,” he continued.

Those remarks couldn’t have been taken well inside the White House, especially coming from the president’s “shadow secretary of State.”

NatSec Daily spoke to a Coons aide to understand what the senator was getting at. Coons was trying to make a broader point about the West needing to firmly stand up and deter Putin from the possible use of chemical or nuclear weapons. If he does use them, the aide said “The conversation would look radically different.”

While Coons or the aide wouldn’t say it explicitly, the implicit takeaway is that Coons believes Biden made a mistake by taking at least the threat of sending troops off the table.

”Everyone, including those at the White House, thought this war was going to be short. We’re now in a very different war than we were in February,” the aide said.

Coons cleaned up matters himself, later tweeting, “I’m not calling for U.S. troops to go into the war in Ukraine.” But his remarks force the administration to face difficult questions on the degree to which the White House is willing to support a proxy fight against Russia, even if officials have repeatedly insisted there will be no war over Ukraine. It’s a different story if Russia attacks NATO territory, though, as the administration has publicly vowed to defend “every inch” of allied lands.

What stuck out to us here at NatSec Daily was how Coons’ views seemed to deviate from those of his colleagues. We decided to gut check that feeling with our own ANDREW DESIDERIO, who closely covers congressional debates on national security, and he told us that the senator’s sentiments were indeed a deviation.

“Coons’ remarks, while a reflection of the anger many Americans harbor toward Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine, don’t represent any sort of shift on Capitol Hill. It’s certainly notable that a leading Democratic senator — one who’s extremely close with Biden — is suggesting troop deployments might become necessary. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a significant cohort of lawmakers willing to break with the president’s long-standing vow that the U.S. won’t be sending its own forces into Ukraine to fight Russia. And it’s even tougher to find folks eager to draw red lines when it comes to Putin,” he said.

If anything, Desiderio continued, “lawmakers are doubling down on their support for new shipments of weapons and other supplies the Ukrainian military needs as it fights back against the Russian assault.”

So if you’re Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY and you’re trying to read the tea leaves in Washington, D.C., Coons’ surprising comments might suggest the cavalry is coming. But the truth is the sentiment in the White House and among most lawmakers remains the same: Arm Ukraine, but don’t send American sons and daughters into that war zone.

The National Security Council didn’t respond to requests for comment. But a senior Democratic congressional aide did react to the remarks in a text exchange with NatSec Daily: “Red lines, much like hairlines, are not to be drawn.”

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