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Rep. Adam Schiff on latest U.S. efforts to resolve crisis between Russia and Ukraine

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone today. The British leader told his Russian counterpart that he has deep concern about Russia's hostile activity. That hostile activity, of course, is the accumulation of more than 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine's border.

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

It's been another day of trying to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis between Russia and Ukraine and another day of no breakthroughs. The threat of a Russian invasion into Ukraine is something California Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff has been following closely. He's chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and he joins me now. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you. Good to be with you

KEITH: In your position as chairman of the Intel Committee, you're getting regular briefings. And I realize you can't share classified information, but intelligence assessments from allies indicate a Russian incursion is imminent or likely. What can you share about the scope of the threat Russia poses at the moment?

SCHIFF: It's an enormous threat to Ukraine, I think, to democracies at large. Certainly, other countries like China are watching with an eye towards what they may do in Taiwan. So the consequences are enormous and go beyond the people of Ukraine.

But this is a very serious buildup. And it's been my - unfortunately, my suspicion all along that Putin intends to do this. I think the Biden administration is doing everything possible to deter them, but if Putin makes the decision to go in, then he will go in. And we have to work with our Ukrainian allies to make it as costly as possible, both in terms of sanctions, but also in terms of equipping the Ukrainians to defend themselves.

KEITH: I want you to react to the announcement today that the U.S. is sending troops to Poland and Romania and Germany. Can you give a sense of why that is happening now? And also, is there any concern that Putin could see that as a provocative move?

SCHIFF: I think the reason it's happening is we want to establish our strong support of our NATO allies and also send a message to Putin that, much like his last invasion of Ukraine, if he thinks this is going to succeed in rolling back NATO from his borders, it's actually going to bring NATO forces closer to Russia. And I think that's a very important message to send Putin.

Will Putin view it as provocative? You know, this is all pretextual for Putin anyway. He will look for some provocation or, if he can't find one, he will make up his own provocation and a false flag operation. So he doesn't need a reason to invade beyond his own internal thinking.

But I think it's very smart for the administration to be signaling that, you know, if he hopes to achieve a rollback, he's going to have exactly the opposite effect. We're going to be moving our NATO assets and forces closer to Russia, not farther away.

KEITH: He said just this week that he believes the U.S. is trying to goad Russia into a conflict with NATO. Can the U.S. be sure that doing this - moving forces closer - won't inflame an already tense situation?

SCHIFF: You know, again, it comes back to the facts on the ground. It's Russia that's moved over 100,000 troops to Ukraine's border. Ukraine hasn't done anything to provoke that. Ukraine poses no threat to Russia. Putin knows that. And so after moving all these forces to the Ukrainian border, he's going to say that any response to his doing that is a provocation. You only make that kind of argument if you're looking to rationalize an intention to invade that you already have.

So I think what the administration is doing is smart. Will Putin say, OK, this is why I'm going to invade? It's always possible that he will use anything as his pretext, but it will have no merit because the aggression and the provocation is all on the Russian side.

KEITH: You alluded to sending more aid to Ukraine - I think more lethal aid. What does that look like? And how much more do you think the U.S. should be sending?

SCHIFF: You know, I can't go into the particulars of it, but I think we should send the Ukrainians what they would need if they have to face a long-term Russian occupation to make that very costly to the Russians. I think this is one thing that Putin fears, which is that he may invade large portions of Ukraine. It could be very costly. Russians could come back in body bags. It may ultimately take a toll on Russian public opinion.

You know, as we have seen from our own efforts in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, you may intend to go in for a short time, but you may be stuck there a very long time. So this ought to be part of Putin's calculus. And it ought to be part of ours. And we ought to make it as costly as we can.

KEITH: Another cost, of course, would be sanctions. And there are many discussions about possible severe sanctions against Russia if troops were to enter Ukraine. The Senate is close to a deal on sanctions. Can you tell me about where efforts are in the House and whether the Congress is close to passing something?

SCHIFF: I think we're very close in the House and the Senate in reconciling any differences between the two approaches. The big issue seems to be whether we should impose sanctions before the Russians invade or only if the Russians invade.

I favor the latter strategy. I think if you put in sanctions now, then Putin just factors it into his calculus and may conclude, well, I've got little reason not to invade now - I'm already being sanctioned. But it's a process of negotiation with the administration and between the parties. And I'm confident we will get to a common result, and that common result will send a powerful message to Putin that on a very bipartisan basis, the U.S. Congress and the administration are intent on really crippling sanctions, something that we've never imposed on Russia before.

KEITH: Do you have a sense of whether the administration is more on the before-Russia-invades sanctions or the after sanctions? Can you say where the White House is?

SCHIFF: You know, I think the administration believes that what would be most effective is if Putin knows that if he invades, then the hammer will come down. And so we're trying to make sure that we provide the administration as much leverage as possible consistent with their position.

KEITH: Congressman Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee and a Democrat from California. Thank you for speaking with us.

SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.