Kind lauds free world's unity in standing up to Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Mar. 15—EAU CLAIRE — Though the carnage is Ukraine is difficult to watch, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind supports staying the course of joining with other nations in imposing economic sanctions against Russia and avoiding direct U.S. military involvement.

The unity of most of the rest of the world in taking action against Russian President Vladimir Putin in response to the invasion of Ukraine he launched Feb. 24 sends a powerful message, Kind told the Leader-Telegram editorial board.

"It's a huge miscalculation on his part," Kind said of Putin. "He was expecting to see a divided Ukraine, a divided Europe, a divided NATO and a divided United States, and just the opposite has occurred. To President Biden's credit, he's unified the free world to stand up against Putin's illegal attack on Ukraine."

Sanctions already are taking a major toll on the Russian economy, Kind said, noting that the ruble is in free fall, interest rates are spiking and the supply of vital technology supplies such as microchips has been cut off.

"We've never before put together a sanctions regime this comprehensive and this quickly in the history of humankind. This is really the first time where the rest of the world is truly united."

The sanctions fuel the hope of the Russian people putting pressure on Putin to end the war.

"There's only so much disinformation Putin is going to be able to con the people with before they start getting ornery," Kind said.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., has criticized President Joe Biden for policies he says have shown weakness and thus emboldened Putin. He maintains that supplying Ukraine with more lethal defensive weaponry sooner might have changed Putin's calculation.

On the ground, Kind backs the emphasis by Western nations on providing weaponry to Ukraine's army and humanitarian assistance to its people, although he conceded those efforts are getting more difficult as Russian troops increasingly are targeting supply lines.

Still, Kind opposes the U.S. heeding calls by some to aid Ukraine by imposing a no-fly zone over the country.

"I think the president is right: A no fly zone is World War III," Kind said. "That brings us into direct conflict with Russian military, and then it escalates from there. ... We need to be careful that this doesn't become a tripwire and suddenly we find ourselves in World War III and Putin is tempted to use tactical nuclear weapons."

Kind acknowledged the Russian invasion already has led to a humanitarian crisis, with nearly 3 million refugees having already fled Ukraine, and a likely increase in that number if, as expected, Russia escalates its shelling of large cities.

As anyone who has filled their car up with gas lately knows, fuel prices have risen dramatically in recent weeks — by 50 cents a gallon in Eau Claire in the past month — in response to the war in Ukraine, and Kind warned the pain at the pump isn't likely to go away soon.

It's not surprising, he said, that markets are volatile when a major oil producer such as Russia attacks another country.

"To me it's another wakeup call," Kind said. "As long as we're still trying to exist in a fossil fuel-dependent world, we're going to be held hostage to those producers. ... So the more we can do to accelerate our transition from fossil to alternative, renewable, sustainable energy development, I think the better off we're going to be."

Airport concern

Closer to home, Kind said officials are following up with SkyWest Airlines to see what it would take to get the carrier to continue providing service to Chippewa Valley Regional Airport.

The airline announced last week it plans to end air service in Eau Claire and 28 other airports across the country because of pilot staffing challenges, although local officials said SkyWest plans to continue providing scheduled flights at Chippewa Valley Regional Airport until another carrier is found.

Kind said losing air service to the airport would be "pretty devastating" for the regional economy but suggested the airport's strong passenger numbers should help make it appealing to potential carriers.

"This has been a problem throughout the country right now, and we're just doing the best we can to address it," the congressman said.

Kind noted the tight labor market created in part by a declining birth rate and 70 million baby boomers beginning their retirement wave will continue to affect aviation and many other industries.

"We've got to just make participating in the workforce easier," he said, pointing to expanding the availability of affordable, quality child care and improving family medical leave policies as steps that could reduce the barriers to employment for many workers. "As a nation, we need a longer-term strategy to address the demographic challenge that's facing us."

Democracy threatened

As he gets ready to leave office next January after 26 years in Congress, Kind said one of his biggest concerns is the fragile state of American democracy, as evidenced by the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and what he called the "Big Lie" that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

"It's each generation's obligation to renew our commitment to democracy," Kind said. "It doesn't just happen. It's not on autopilot. It's something that has to be renewed ... and protected against forces that would have otherwise."

Misinformation believed by a sizeable percentage of the population is a key driver of this rising threat, he said.

"That's probably one of the most frustrating aspects of my job today is this alternate reality that I have to confront every day," Kind said. "Facts don't matter. Truth — there's no such thing anymore. It just depends on what you happen to fervently believe. That becomes your new reality, your new truth, and no one's going to be able to convince you otherwise."

On Tuesday state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he is meeting this week with advocates still seeking to decertify Biden's win in Wisconsin.

"I still believe that we do not have the ability to decertify, but I said I would listen to those who are bringing experts to say we can and we will see if they can prove their case," Vos told The Associated Press.

Vos has been under pressure from former President Donald Trump and other Republicans who support his false claims that the election was stolen and say Vos is not doing enough, including decertifying Biden's win, which has been upheld by recounts and multiple court rulings.

Looking forward, Kind called Republican-led efforts to restrict voting rights and control vote-counting extremely concerning. Republicans have maintained the measures are intended to reduce voter fraud and ensure the integrity of elections.

"It's a scary time for our democracy right now," Kind said, "and I think the verdict is still out which way it's going to go."