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“We Need Restraint”: Rep. Ro Khanna Cautions Against Sending U.S. “Lethal Aid” to Ukraine

StoryFebruary 10, 2022
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Congressmember Ro Khanna cautions against sending “lethal aid” to Ukraine and says all sides need to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis. The last thing the American people want is to provoke a war with Russia, says Khanna. “I think we should do everything possible not to escalate the situation.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Ro, I’d like to ask now about the developing situation with Russia. The White House accused Russia of escalating tensions Wednesday as an estimated 30,000 Russian troops begin 10 days of military drills in Belarus. Now, you’ve called for the Biden administration to exhaust all diplomatic efforts with Russia. What do you think those diplomatic efforts should look like? And do you support the threat of devastating sanctions against Russia in the event of any kind of Russian invasion of Ukraine?

REP. RO KHANNA: I do think here President Biden has handled the situation well. I mean, Putin’s threats of aggression, threats of invasion against Ukraine have no basis. No country can threaten the sovereignty of another country. There’s absolutely no justification for that. President Biden has said that that will be met with severe consequences. And all of the sanctions that he’s outlined, targeting Putin himself and the financial sanctions, are things that he needs to put on the table to make it clear that this — that Putin shouldn’t do that, that there is going to be a huge impact if he does it. And I think that that has been effective in deterring Putin.

But we need to have a resolution with diplomatic options. And I’ve said everything there ought to be on the table, including the status of Ukraine and NATO. I believe President Bush made a blunder when he said that we were definitely going to have Ukraine in NATO, and then we haven’t followed through. I mean, and there’s — it seems that there isn’t any intention on following through. And so, everything needs to be discussed on what will actually secure Ukraine. But that doesn’t mean that Putin has any justification for what he’s doing. And that has to be met strongly.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you agree with Bernie Sanders, who just did a piece in The Guardian, saying, “I hear the familiar drumbeats in Washington, the bellicose rhetoric that gets amplified before every war, demanding that we must 'show strength', 'get tough' and not engage in 'appeasement'”? And then you have, in their individual capacity, the chair of the Progressive Caucus, Pramila Jayapal, and Congressmember Barbara Lee calling for restraint, saying, “We have significant concerns that new troop deployments, sweeping and indiscriminate sanctions, and a flood of hundreds of millions of dollars in lethal weapons will only raise tensions and increase the chance of miscalculation.” Do you join them in those concerns?

REP. RO KHANNA: I certainly join them in the concerns of having increased aid, lethal aid, into that area. That will only inflame the situation. I also join them in the concern that we need restraint, that the last thing the American people want is an escalation which could lead us to some long war in Ukraine with Russia, that that’s a very dangerous situation, and no one in this country — or, very few people in this country would want that. There’s a reason President Obama didn’t send lethal aid into Ukraine and had a greater restraint in his approach. So, I do think we should do everything possible not to escalate the situation, while having the moral clarity that Putin is in the wrong in this case, that there’s simply no justification for the invasion or the threat of invasion.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ro, we’d like to go back to your book and the story you tell about your maternal grandfather, who was part of Gandhi’s Quit India movement calling for the British to leave India. Could you speak about him and how he inspired you?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, Amarnath Vidyalankar is a hero of mine. He spent 15 years in India’s independence movement. He’s my mother’s father. He worked with Lala Lajpat Rai. He was a part of the People’s Servants Society and was a secretary to Lala Lajpat Rai. He spent four years in jail during the 1940s as part of Quit India, and then he lived to see India be free and be part of India’s first Parliament.

I suppose when I think about his sacrifices, his life, far more courageous than anything I’ve had to go through, when I think of my late colleague John Lewis’s sacrifice, when I think about all of the people who have pushed for human rights and freedoms, it gives me hope of the possibility of us overcoming a lot of the divisions now. The challenges now are daunting, but perhaps not nearly as daunting as things that my grandfather or John Lewis or others have faced.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you end by talking about January 6th, the insurrection? The latest news we hear, President Trump flushing paper down the toilet, taking boxes of documents, perhaps some classified, to Mar-a-Lago, defying in that way. And then you have the — oh, what? A hundred congressmembers not willing to condemn what took place, saying it was just public discourse that should be protected. What you feel we need to learn from this?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, it was an appalling statements. The RNC called it “legitimate political discourse.” Scaling Capitol walls are legitimate political discourse? Waving Confederate flags in the Capitol is legitimate political discourse? I mean, there’s been a loss of total perspective. And it is, of course, a shameful day, but what we ought to do is look at all of the causes of it. Partly, we have to look at the causes of social media, where there were specific targeted threats of assassination, and some of these social media companies, like Facebook, sat on that, did not give that information — 

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

REP. RO KHANNA: — to law enforcement — law enforcement. But beyond that, we need accountability, not just of the people who were out there rioting or insurrectionists, but of the strategists, the people who plotted this. We haven’t gotten to them yet. And that’s what the commission needs to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Ro Khanna, we want to thank you for being with us. The book, just out, Dignity in the Digital Age: Making Tech Work for All of Us. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

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