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Sen. Graham pushes for F-16s to Ukraine as US declares Russian actions 'crimes against humanity'

"I believe a decision will be imminent" on the jets, he said on "This Week."

February 19, 2023, 12:28 PM

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Sunday pushed the Biden administration to provide more aid to Ukraine after Vice President Kamala Harris said Russia was committing "crimes against humanity" in its invasion.

"I believe a decision will be imminent here when we get back to Washington that the administration will start training Ukrainian pilots on the F-16" fighter jet, Graham, a prominent defense hawk, told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz in an exclusive interview from the Munich Security Conference.

That would represent a major escalation of U.S. support and one which President Joe Biden has signaled reluctance to commit to. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, appearing separately on "This Week," didn't say whether F-16s had been approved but noted that proper training for the Ukrainians was also important.

"Let me just stress this: How can you call this war by Russia a crime against humanity … and not give the victim of their crime against humanity the defensive weapons they need to stop the crime? So, we need to do two things quickly: make Russia a state sponsor of terrorism under U.S. law, which would make it harder for China to give weapons to Russia, and we need to start training Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 now," Graham said.

World leaders have been meeting in Munich for an annual gathering to discuss global security on the eve of the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with Harris underscoring the need to stand up to authoritarian nations using "brute force."

"In the case of Russia's actions in Ukraine, we have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt: These are crimes against humanity," she said in remarks to the security conference on Saturday, rebuking Russia's repeated denials that it targets civilians and commits other atrocities.

When pressed by Raddatz on "This Week" over whether providing F-16 jets and long-range missiles to Ukraine would provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin, Graham said he was more concerned with removing Russia from Ukraine all together.

"I'm not worried about provoking Putin. I want to beat him. And how do you beat him? You beat him by giving the Ukrainians the military capability to drive the Russians out of Ukraine," he said, adding, "I see solidarity across the aisle in America and across the seas."

"Let's make sure we beat Putin in Ukraine, because he will not stop if we do not," Graham said.

He said that a defeat for Russia included them returning the Crimean Peninsula they illegally annexed in 2014. Graham pointed to a post-Soviet Union agreement in the '90s with Ukraine and other countries in which Ukraine agreed to hand over its nuclear weapons in exchange for a guaranteed set of borders.

"To not honor that commitment would be tricking the Ukraine, would be rewarding Putin for rewriting agreements involving nuclear weapons," he said.

He also doubled down on his hawkish views by calling for international tribunals to be established to try Putin himself, as well as other Russian officials.

"You label Putin's Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism [and] you create international tribunals so we actually can try Putin and his cronies in the international court like we did after World War II," he said.

He said boosting aid to Ukraine would send a warning over any ambitions Beijing may have to invade Taiwan and that the international community should be prepared to punish China for sending lethal aid to Moscow, as Blinken said on "This Week" they are considering.

"Now if that happens, the world needs to come down hard on China. ... Any country that comes to their aid should pay a heavy price," Graham said.

"That's why we should designate Russia state sponsored terrorism, because if you do that under U.S. law and China provides lethal weapons, they will get sanctioned," he said.

China's Foreign Ministry insisted in a new statement that its relationship with Russia was "strategic" and "built on the basis of non-alliance, non-confrontation and non-targeting of third countries." Graham urged them not to become more involved.

"To the Chinese, if you jump on the Putin train now, you're dumber than dirt. It would be like buying a ticket on the Titanic after you saw the movie. Don't do this. The most catastrophic thing that could happen to the U.S.-China relationship, in my opinion, is for China to give lethal weapons to Putin and his crime against humanity," he said. "That would change everything forever."

Separately, Raddatz asked Graham for his response to a recent Georgia grand jury report that reaffirmed no "widespread fraud" was found in the 2020 presidential election. Graham was subpoenaed and testified after a phone call he had with Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, about the 2020 election, before it was certified.

Graham told Raddatz he had "no concerns about my testimony" and said he agreed that there wasn't major fraud, noting that he voted to certify the race.

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