Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., applauded Gov. Glenn Youngkin and state lawmakers from both political parties on Tuesday for “stepping up” to economically boycott Russia for its military invasion of Ukraine.
Warner, deeply involved in the U.S. response to the crisis as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, credited Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, for leading the effort to remove Russian vodka from state ABC shelves and Youngkin for seeking to end state investment in Russian companies.
Over the weekend, the governor singled out investments by the $107 billion Virginia Retirement System, which estimates that Russian investments account for 0.1% of the total fund.
“We do need to re-examine [state investments], whether it’s VRS or state agencies doing business with Russia,” Warner said. “We are trying to economically boycott them ... and make these sanctions hurt. I think the more we can do as a state and as a community, I support Governor Youngkin on it.”
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But Warner also warned that Virginians will feel the pain, too, especially at the gasoline pump, where prices were already high two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began but could rise above $4 a gallon by St. Patrick’s Day, according to AAA Virginia.
He supported the release of oil from strategic petroleum reserves — President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that the U.S. and its allies would release 60 million barrels, half of it from the American reserves.
However, Warner said, “We’ve got to recognize that standing up to Russia, standing up to Russian energy could mean in the short term higher gas prices across the whole world and that will affect energy prices here in America.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the president had made the decision to release the reserves in coordination with allies and the International Energy Agency.
“We are prepared to use every tool available to us to limit disruption to global energy supply as a result of President Putin’s actions,” Psaki said. “We will also continue our efforts to accelerate diversification of energy supplies away from Russia and to secure the world from Moscow’s weaponization of oil and gas.”
Warner regretted the cancellation of the Keystone oil pipeline — which he said he “broke from my party” to support — and called for an “all of the above approach” to energy production, while attempting to mitigate climate change caused by fossil fuels and its effect on vulnerable communities such as Hampton Roads.
“If there are ways to increase production in this crisis, it has to be on the table,” he said.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on Monday had called on Biden to release oil from the U.S. strategic reserve to buffer American consumers from runaway gas prices.
Spanberger said she met Monday with Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, who also is a member of the Ukrainian parliament.
“We must continue supporting our Ukrainian allies who are bravely fighting for their freedom by providing the arms, technical equipment, and humanitarian support they need,” she said Tuesday. “And as the invasion continues, we must further ensure that Putin, his oligarch cronies, and his enablers face unrelenting economic, social, and worldwide consequences.”
Warner and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., joined 37 other senators in urging Biden on Tuesday to grant temporary protective status to Ukrainians living in the country to prevent them from being expelled and returned to the war-torn country.
“Granting [temporary protected status] to the limited population of Ukrainians who are currently in the U.S. on a temporary basis will create a minimal disruption for our country, but forcing these individuals to return to a war zone would be unacceptable,” they said.
As sanctions bite deeply into Russia’s economy, Warner warned, “We should expect Putin to unleash cyberattacks against our country and other NATO nations.”
He also acknowledged the sanctions could undermine cooperation between the United States and Russia on the space program, especially the International Space Station that is partly supplied from Virginia’s spaceport on the Eastern Shore with rockets that depend on supplies from Russia and Ukraine.
“This kind of economic break with Russia could lead to all kinds of spinoffs,” he said, “and I’m not surprised to see some of our cooperation in space break down.”
Rep. Don Beyer, D-8th, chair of the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, said Tuesday he is “encouraged” by NASA’s statement that it is continuing to work with Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos.
Beyer said he’s also encouraged “by the fact that the International Space Station partnership has been successfully preserved through periods of geopolitical stress in the past, and that sustaining its safe and productive operation has always been a focus of the partnership.”
Warner said the U.S. and its allies in NATO must remain unified against Russian aggression in Ukraine, but avoid a potential military confrontation between nuclear superpowers that he suggested may be “rapidly moving past even what happened with the Cuban Missile Crisis” in 1962.
“We have to be very cautions about escalation or having direct confrontation between NATO and Russia” he said, “but we can’t walk away from our commitment to NATO and we can’t walk away from continuing to provide our friends in Ukraine with weapons.”
Warner also acknowledged that Russia is likely to use its military superiority to overwhelm Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, but he doesn’t expect the war to end there.
“You can take the cities, but can you control the population?” he asked. “I think the Ukrainians are going to fight back.”