Jan 16, 2022 - World

McCaul: Putin "very aggressive" on Ukraine

Rep. Michael McCaul is seen speaking with Jake Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union."

Rep. Michael McCaul speaks with Jake Tapper in this screenshot from CNN's "State of the Union."

The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Sunday that classified intelligence on Russia's alleged plans to provoke war with Ukraine through a "false-flag" operation is "the most specific I have ever seen," and the timetable is "very aggressive."

Why it matters: A conventional war on the European continent could break out in a matter of days. It would fundamentally transform Russia's relationship with the West, unleash a wave of refugees and pull the U.S. further into a proxy conflict it has no interest in waging.

What they're saying: During an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union," Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) claimed the Biden administration's chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan was a "moment of weakness" that U.S. adversaries like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are now exploiting.

  • "We are not projecting strength as [President] Reagan talked about, but rather projecting weakness, which historically — going back to Hitler and Chamberlain — always invites aggression," McCaul said.
  • McCaul argued the U.S. is in a "new Cold War" with Russia because President Vladimir Putin "smells weakness," and sees now as his best window to invade Ukraine to broaden a Russian sphere of influence.
  • A source close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky echoed McCaul’s sentiment, telling Axios: “Until Moscow believes the Biden administration means what it says, the administration will continue to be boxed in.”

What to watch: McCaul and other Republicans have called on President Biden to establish deterrence now with sanctions and additional military assistance for Ukraine — rather than wait for Putin to invade.

  • Those steps come with risks, however.
  • The Kremlin has warned that new sanctions would result in the severing of relations between the U.S. and Russia.
  • And any additional weapons deliveries to Ukraine will likely be viewed in Moscow as a provocation, justifying an invasion.

The bottom line: Biden would like to complete President Obama's "Pivot to Asia" to confront the threat posed by China.

  • Russia seems intent on making it as painful as possible.

Go deeper: "Biden boxed in on Ukraine."

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