Five F-22 Raptors fly over Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. One Republican senator would like the US to display F-22s and other advanced military equipment near Ukraine. (US Air Force)
WASHINGTON — A senior Republican senator says his call to surround Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine-occupying forces with America’s most-advanced weapons would not amount to an escalation that could trigger a major conflict.
Western presidents and chancellors, as well as senior secretaries and ministers, are focused on using economic and diplomatic maneuvers to force the Russian president to remove his forces from Ukraine’s Crimea region. No Western leader is talking about using military force to push Putin’s forces from the region.
The Senate Armed Services Committee’s senior Republican said he isn’t, either.
But, in an interview with the Tulsa World newspaper published this week, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma made clear he thinks US President Barack Obama should increase pressure by sending some of America’s most-advanced fighter jet, the F-22, to Poland. That’s not so far from Ukraine.
He also wants Obama to send some Navy warships equipped with the Aegis combat system, called by many analysts the world’s finest, into the Baltic and Black seas.
Inhofe also wants to begin sending US natural gas to European Union member states to weaken Putin’s leverage over them, which other lawmakers and experts are advocating.
But when it comes to urging deployment of America’s best weapon systems, Inhofe is among a small minority.
Inhofe told the newspaper the F-22s and Aegis ships would “show [Russia] we still have a military and are willing to stand up to them.”
Asked if he has any worries that deploying perhaps America’s most lethal combat platforms in response to the Crimea invasion might escalate tensions and spark a major conflict, Inhofe sternly replied: “No.”
The SASC’s top Republican told Defense News he believes Obama and his administration have been more than merely asleep at the wheel with its Russia policy.
“It was the Bush administration that wanted to put the ground-based interceptor in Poland,” Inhofe said. “It was the Obama administration … that took it out. That was clearly just to pacify Russia.”
Inhofe said sending those US systems close to Putin’s forces would “show that we have a military concern over what has happened,” while also creating for Putin “some visible evidence there that we have a military.”