By Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler, CNN
Secretary of State Antony Blinken forcefully pushed back Tuesday when Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky pointed out that Ukraine and Georgia were once part of the Soviet Union as Paul appeared to raise Moscow’s alleged rationale about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“I firmly disagree with that proposition,” Blinken said during a congressional hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in responding to Paul’s assertion that “you could argue” that the countries Russia has attacked were part of the Soviet Union. Paul seemed to indicate Russia’s anger about Ukraine possibly joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — especially given it used to be in the Soviet Union — could have triggered the invasion.
The back and forth was prompted by Paul questioning why the US had been “agitating” for Ukraine to join NATO last fall, which was something Russia ardently opposed as a “red line.”
Blinken argued that it was important to continually defend NATO’s open door policy.
“It’s the right of these countries to decide their future and their own destiny,” Blinken goes on to say, saying their history does not give Russia the right to attack them.
“No one is saying that it does,” Paul responded.
“They were liberated as part of this empire by force,” Blinken said.
Blinken also said that the US sought to engage Russia on many of its concerns about Ukraine before it invaded Ukraine, but those efforts went nowhere because Russia was not genuinely interested.
“When everything came to a head, it is abundantly clear, in President Putin’s own words, that this was never about Ukraine being potentially part of NATO, and it was always about his belief that Ukraine does not deserve to be a sovereign, independent country, that it must be reassumed into Russia in one form or another,” Blinken said.
The GOP senator said, “There is no justification for the invasion,” but “there are reasons for the invasion.”
Blinken’s remarks on Capitol Hill followed an overseas trip the US secretary of state took with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin where the two Biden Cabinet officials met in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
On that trip, Blinken told reporters that Russian attempts to “subjugate Ukraine and take its independence” have “failed.”
“Russia has sought as its principal aim to totally subjugate Ukraine, to take away its sovereignty, to take away its independence — that has failed,” Blinken said at a news conference in Poland near the Ukrainian border following the meeting with Zelensky. “It has sought to assert the power of its military and its economy. We, of course, are seeing just the opposite, a military that is dramatically underperforming and an economy … as a result of sanctions that is in shambles.”
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