U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks about the U.S. response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the University of South Carolina on Monday. Photos by Jacob Gamble.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham on Monday called on the Russian people to overthrow President Vladimir Putin and warned that if Russia successfully invades Ukraine, western civilization would be at risk.
“If [Putin] is still standing when this is all over, I worry about the future of our planet,” Graham said during a roundtable discussion at the University of South Carolina’s School of Law on Monday.
This warning comes as the Russian army laid siege to Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv, and the war entered its third week.
Graham was joined by U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, who proposed setting up a lend-lease program for Ukraine, similar to what the U.S. created in World War II to support England and other allies in Europe.
“The reason that the Russians were successful [in World War II] was because of lend-lease,” Wilson said. “It was America that sent equipment to save the people of Leningrad. Now, I’m proposing that we send lend-lease equipment to Kyiv.”
The Lend Lease Act of 1941 created a system for lending or leasing war supplies to U.S. allies while remaining neutral in World War II, prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Wilson also said that he was filing legislation to give Russian defectors refugee status in the U.S. and to pay Russian soldiers for turning over equipment to the Ukrainians.
In addition, Wilson said he wants a bust of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to be placed in the U.S. Capitol. He said other wartime leaders, including the late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, are recognized with busts in Congress.
Graham and Wilson each noted how the war had brought together both political parties.
“I’m really grateful that indeed, Putin inadvertently has really brought Republicans and Democrats together, unified to stand for rule of law,” Wilson said.
Despite this unity, Graham and Wilson criticized President Biden for his decision not to send Poland’s MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. The White House rejected the proposal from Poland last week citing the fear of escalating tensions with Russia.
Graham downplayed this risk.
“I am concerned that we’re letting Putin tell us what to do,” Graham said. “Do I believe that Putin is randomly going to pre-emptively attack the United States with nuclear weapons? No. He’s a murderer, but he’s not suicidal. And I do believe that if he did order the attack, the Russian generals would take care of the problem.”
While Graham doubled-down on his position in support of sending MiG fighter jets to Ukraine, he remained opposed to creating a no-fly zone over Ukraine, unless the Russians conducted a chemical attack.
“If [Putin] goes down the road of using chemical weapons against the Ukrainian people, that would be a larger war crime than what’s being committed in front of us today,” Graham said. “That should spark a response to protect the Ukrainian people against a miserable death.”
Graham and Wilson both emphasized the dangers of a Russian victory for the rest of the world.
“This is a dress rehearsal for Taiwan,” Graham said.
“You have Iran with the keen interest of pursuing the vaporization of Israel,” Wilson said, which could be emboldened if the U.S. and other N.A.T.O allies are unable to hold Russia accountable.
However, Graham remained optimistic that Russia will be unsuccessful and that Putin will fall.
“What happens in Russia? I don’t know,” he said. “But these movies usually end the same way: guys like Putin go. It’s just a matter of how many people have to die before that happens.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson holds up a photo from a Zoom call he was on with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Wilson said he wants to place a bust of Zelensky in the U.S. Capitol to recognize his bravery.
Joel H. Samuels, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of South Carolina’s School of Law, said he is concerned that Russia’s actions could deteriorate the legitimacy of international law if it’s not enforced in response to war crime accusations in Ukraine.
Wilson said he has seen greater unity among Americans in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.