Lawmakers' answer to the Russia-Ukraine crisis: Weapons made in their states
Lawmakers from both parties are talking up how military hardware built in their home states can help deter Moscow and bolster NATO's defenses amid fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Specifically, members of Congress this week pushed for faster sales of tanks to Poland and highlighted the Navy submarine fleet's role in countering Russia at sea.
Neither military capability is destined for the front lines of the Ukraine conflict, where President Joe Biden has vowed not to send U.S. military personnel beyond the trainers who are already there.
But the public pleas come as Democrats and Republicans press the administration to furnish Ukraine with more weapons in the face of a buildup of roughly 100,000 Russian troops on its border and to beef up military posture on NATO's eastern flank.
Biden has already greenlit an extra $200 million worth of weaponry for Ukraine, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, and is weighing deploying thousands of U.S. troops to Eastern Europe.
Congress, meanwhile, is mulling approving another half billion dollars in military aid for Ukraine as part of comprehensive sanctions and security legislation introduced in recent weeks by House and Senate Democrats.
Now some lawmakers are highlighting the role of their home-state products in keeping Moscow at bay.
Speeding up tank sale: Three House Armed Services Republicans — ranking member Mike Rogers of Alabama and Reps. Mike Turner of Ohio and Lisa McClain of Michigan — on Monday called for the Biden administration to expedite the sale of 250 M1A2 Abrams tanks to Poland to reinforce NATO amid the standoff with Russia.
The lawmakers urged Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a letter to speed up the sale, which has been pending since last year, "to the maximum extent possible, to help deter Russian aggression."
"Expediting the provision of this capability, especially as Russia builds-up forces around Ukraine, would send an important message to both NATO and the Kremlin," the lawmakers wrote.
Outfitting Poland with the Abrams, the trio argued, would not only bolster a NATO ally, but would replace Soviet equipment "while simultaneously strengthening the U.S. industrial base."
Polish officials had said they expected the first tanks to arrive this year when they struck the deal last summer. But General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic told investors in October that the sale may not be finalized for two years .
The Abrams is built by General Dynamics Land Systems at their plant in Lima, Ohio. The plant is outside Turner's Dayton-based congressional district, instead belonging to Republican Jim Jordan 's district.
General Dynamics Land Systems is headquartered in Sterling Heights, Mich., in McClain's district.
Roger's district is home to the Anniston Army Depot, which performs maintenance on the Abrams and other armored vehicles.
Turner, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, was president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and has backed shoring up the alliance's military posture. Those views have put Turner at odds with some of his fellow Republicans — he notably rebuffed Fox News host Tucker Carlson when he questioned why the U.S. would back Ukraine forces over Russia.
Spokespersons for the three lawmakers did not respond to requests for comment.
A 'big role' for subs: Two Connecticut Democrats, meanwhile, underscored the role of the Navy's undersea forces in keeping Russia at bay.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Joe Courtney fielded questions during a virtual event Monday hosted by another GD subsidiary, General Dynamics Electric Boat, about how U.S. naval power could help deter Russia in the Ukraine standoff, according to Defense News, which first reported their comments . The contractor builds subs for the Navy at its Groton shipyard in Courtney's eastern Connecticut district.
Though submarines aren't on the front lines of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the pair emphasized that naval forces have a role in checking Moscow's ambitions and stopping a larger conflict.
"There's no question that our undersea fleet is going to be very busy at this very tense moment and is definitely going to play a big role in terms of making sure that whatever possible conflict may emerge, that it does not escalate into something more serious," Courtney said, according to Defense News.
Blumenthal warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin plans "to bolster undersea warfare" to challenge the U.S. and "create instability" elsewhere amid the buildup on Ukraine's border.
"Undersea warfare — because we’re talking about the Mediterranean, about the Black Sea as potential areas of tension and conflict — is very much in play even though it isn’t directly involved in the confrontation in the Eastern Ukraine area," Blumenthal said.
Both lawmakers sit on their respective chambers' Armed Services committees and are advocates for sustaining the Navy's Virginia-class attack sub and the new Columbia-class ballistic missile sub. Courtney chairs the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee that oversees shipbuilding programs.
Blumenthal, who has advocated sending more arms to the Ukrainians, was part of a bipartisan Senate delegation that traveled to Kyiv last week and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
A spokesperson for Blumenthal did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Courtney noted that he was responding to a reporter's question and didn't proactively bring up the topic.
Parochialism vs. deterrence: The touting of military hardware "certainly looks parochial," said Mandy Smithberger, the director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog group.
"It sounds like this is just a preview of more to come," Smithberger said.
While U.S. tanks sales or sub deployments are unlikely to alter the immediate calculus in Ukraine, which isn't a NATO member, the moves may contribute to long-term deterrence on the continent, noted Barry Pavel, a senior vice president and director of the Atlantic Council's Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security.
"You may say, 'Ultimately, you're going to see a lot more tanks on the eastern border of Poland. It may not be 2022 or even 2023, but this is going to be a much less stable situation for you, Russia,'" Pavel said. "And same with subs. You're going to see more subs."
"It is the longer term, but I don't think we should necessarily underplay that, the value of even things that take a few years," Pavel added. "You're stimulating the alliance to put more forces near Russia. Nothing to do with changing the fight in Ukraine. Nothing at all. It's not our fight directly."
More on the way: Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill have been pressing the Biden administration to ship more arms to Ukraine and step up military efforts with the aim of deterring Russia and bolstering NATO.
The Biden administration has already approved $200 million in additional weapons and equipment to Kyiv, while the Pentagon has placed 8,500 troops on standby to potentially deploy to Eastern Europe. Baltic nations Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are also sending Ukraine more Javelin anti-armor missiles and Stinger ground-to-air missiles.
Lawmakers are plotting to send even more hardware. House and Senate Democrats have unveiled companion bills that would authorize $500 million more for the State Department in military financing for Ukraine on top of sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and Russian leadership and financial institutions.
A bipartisan group of senators is discussing changes to the upper chamber's bill , introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), to win enough GOP votes to advance on the floor. Providing Ukraine with more security and anti-propaganda aid, as well as beefing up sanctions, are under consideration.