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On a deceptively serene and sunny day on the Romanian border with Ukraine, near the town of Serit, I saw with my own eyes the pain and torment inflicted on a sovereign nation by a tyrannical autocrat.
Passing through checkpoints and encountering Ukrainian refugees fleeing to the safety of our European allies, I couldn’t help but think back to memories of my childhood at the height of the Cold War – a formative time for me. .
What we saw then was an economic and political system that was so weak that they relied on gun barrel and barbed wire to subjugate rather than rule. It became very clear to me that a “superpower” that has to erect walls to prevent its people from fleeing is neither super nor possesses any real power.
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I never thought that decades later I would be face to face with Ukrainian refugees fleeing violence and bloodshed led by a man born from the ashes heap of the Cold War. Vladimir Putin’s insane fantasies and thirst for conquest are responsible for thousands of innocent deaths and the displacement of more than 10 million Ukrainians.
It has been said that the greatest natural resource a country has is its people. This rings true for the nations we visited. About two million refugees fled to Poland and another five hundred thousand to Romania. And in both countries, we did not see a single large refugee camp.
Why? Because the people of Poland and Romania have opened their doors to welcome, feed and care for Ukrainian refugees – perfect strangers doing perfect.
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This conflict is not a collection of pixels on a television screen. These are real people, with real families, and there are real and lasting consequences.
When we met the Romanian Interior Minister, we heard the story of his nine-year-old daughter learning why her friends are safe and why Ukrainian children are not.
Overnight, a young child must have learned the intricacies of NATO and what Article 5 means to our allies. After this story through his interpreter, he looked each of us in the eye and in English said “thank you”.
Thanks to this conversation and countless others, one thing has never wavered: the fighting spirit and resilience of the Ukrainian people.
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Their courage reaffirmed what I have been saying for months. It is critical that the United States continue to provide robust lethal and non-lethal assistance to Ukraine. Specifically, Ukraine must deny Russian air superiority. To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill’s speech at MIT in 1949, “air superiority is the ultimate expression of military power”.
It is vital that this administration accelerate programs to provide air and missile defense. We must also provide armour, long-range artillery and other asymmetric aids such as sniper rifles, plastic explosives and anti-tank mines. Additionally, deploying floating munitions such as the Switchblade 300 and 600 deep into enemy territory is crucial. These high-tech drones are cost-effective tools for combating Russian love and artillery.
This administration’s failure to prevent escalation is itself an escalation. Vladimir Putin is deterring this administration, and the consequences lead to the pain and suffering we have seen up close and personal – the same suffering the world is witnessing in Bucha, Ukraine. War and strife are invited by weakness. American hard power is what will give Ukrainians the tools to defend their freedom against the tyranny of Vladimir Putin.
These days, it’s easy to take for granted the rights and freedoms that we enjoy in the United States, freedoms that many around the world yearn for.
As the great communicator, President Ronald Reagan once said, “Freedom is never more than a generation away from extinction. We did not pass it down to our children in blood. It must be fought, protected and passed on for them. do the same…” And to add to the wise words of the Gipper… freedom is always a tyrant’s way from extinction.
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As Americans, we must do everything in our power to support the Ukrainian people in their struggle for freedom. Because they are not only fighting for their freedom, but for the very survival of their country.
If the United States shows committed leadership, when this war is over and an independent Ukraine survives, Americans will rejoice and suffer no regret.