NEW HAVEN >> U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Sunday called Russian president Vladimir Putin a “KGB thug” who only understands force and said he will continue to fight for tougher economic sanctions to thwart Putin’s efforts to re-establish the Soviet Empire.
Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Ukraine Caucus and the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke at St. Michael’s Church, where members of Ukrainian descent are often visited by Blumenthal to hear of his longtime efforts to fight Russia’s takeover of the eastern Ukraine, to push for aide to the troops who are fighting there and for the freedom fighters injured in the violence.
On Sunday Blumenthal also announced legislation he proposed as part of this year’s defense bill to include $500 million for the Ukrainian Security Assistance Initiative – or helping the wounded by bringing them here for cutting-edge medical treatment. That is $350 million above the president’s request to provide security assistance to Ukraine.
But Blumenthal also spoke of the Russian/Putin issue in broader terms this time, as more and more evidence emerges concerning Russia’s intervention to influence the 2016 presidential election and as allegations continue regarding President Donald Trump’s closest allies, including Donald Trump Jr., having been involved in that process.
He said the Russians tried but failed to hack into voting machines in 21 states to interfere with the election process.
Blumenthal said he believes the cyber-attack on the United States election to be an “act of war,” but the rules on what officially constitutes that have not yet been written.
“We’re crazy if we refuse to recognize the threat here,” Blumenthal said. “They (Putin and his government) need to pay the price.”
He said Putin is a “dangerous adversary” who “only understands force” – military and economic force.
He said Russia’s economy is failing and their only resource is energy – oil and natural gas. Attacking them in that economic arena would be effective, he said.
A comprehensive sanctions bill passed the United States Senate last month, 98-2, but has been stalled in the House of Representatives and lacks substantive support from the Trump administration, Blumenthal said.
“They are testing the United States’ resolve in the wake of the election,” he said. “Ukraine is the tip of the sphere. Their cyber attack undermined our democracy.”
Regarding the situation in the Ukraine, where Russia is increasing its presence and power, Blumenthal told the congregation it should be everyone’s fight because aggression there is a threat to freedom everywhere.
He reiterated that this shouldn’t be a partisan issue and that on the subject of additional aide to Ukraine, he didn’t believe the Obama administration – of which he was a fan – did enough either.
Blumenthal proposed the half-billion dollars to help treat Ukrainian freedom fighters with all the latest technology here – including in prosthetics — because they deserve to be able to walk, play with their children and work.
He said they can be treated at Yale-New Haven Hospital, Bridgeport Hospital and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center – and in some cases have been – but there are expenses associated with travel along with other expenses.
Recently, Blumenthal partnered with Connecticut’s Ukrainian-American community to secure a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 that creates a new funding authority for the treatment of wounded Ukrainian soldiers at DoD military treatment facilities.
Ukrainian soldiers are currently able to come to America to be treated at military facilities when Ukraine cannot provide adequate care. However, limited funding means many qualifying wounded Ukrainian soldiers cannot receive care in the United States.
The audience at St. Michael’s loves Blumenthal and, with words and applause, told him again Sunday just how much they appreciate him.
Dionizia Brochinsky of Orange said she is an immigrant from Ukraine long ago and she and her family have benefited from living in the United States. She thanked Blumenthal for “caring for” the Ukraine.
Anya Rohmer-Hanson of New Haven told Blumenthal that he’s a “Don Quixote” or hero to those at St. Michael’s.