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Two weeks ago, I led a group of 10 senators — Republicans, Democrats and even one independent — on a bipartisan delegation visit to Poland and Germany. We traveled together to demonstrate America’s unwavering support for the freedom-loving people of Ukraine and to affirm the strength of the world’s most powerful alliance, NATO. We departed with the conviction that the U.S., Ukraine and the free world have the will and the means to unite and stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tyranny. As news breaks this week that Russia will “drastically” reduce its military presence in the directions of Kyiv and Chernihiv, my belief has only strengthened.

Ukraine can win this war.

I saw firsthand how the Ukrainian people hungered for freedom. That same flame still burns brightly.

As a student at Iowa State University, I had the opportunity to participate in an agricultural exchange program to Ukraine while it was still part of the Soviet Union. I saw firsthand how the Ukrainian people hungered for freedom. That same flame still burns brightly. 

Today, the world is witnessing the Ukrainians’ belief in freedom through their ferocity on the battlefield and on the streets of Kharkiv, Mariupol and Kyiv. It was the same ferocity I witnessed fighting alongside Ukrainians during the global war on terrorism. And it seems to be working: There are reports that Russia is running low on manpower and ammunition. The weapons the U.S., our allies and our partners provided are being deployed with lethal proficiency. Meanwhile, Russian casualties could be occurring at a rate up to 1,000 a day. The Ukrainians are intercepting unclassified calls and eliminating Russian field commanders.

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In eastern Poland, the U.S. delegation had the opportunity to hear directly from Ukrainian civil society leaders. This group of passionate, strong women delivered a clear message to the U.S.: We need more lethal aid — weapons, including air defense systems — and we need it as soon as possible. Ukraine will win this fight if we help it win this fight. 

They were rightly concerned by the slow pace and flow of the lethal aid that Congress passed and the president has been announcing over the past few weeks. But there is no time to waste. Every second counts in war. We heard a similar plea from a Ukrainian refugee at a processing center near the Ukrainian-Polish border. Though humanitarian assistance is vitally important, her biggest request matched President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s request to Congress a week ago: more weapons. She and others also told me that Ukraine will fight to the last man. She wants peace, but the only way she sees it is if Ukraine wins the war.

Beyond Ukraine’s borders, the trip clarified NATO’s posture against Putin’s unjust and bloody aggression. We are united. After discussions with U.S. commanders on the ground in Germany and Poland, I can share with confidence that the U.S. military is primed at the tip of the spear to deter further aggression and keep Americans safe if called upon.

Defense Department press secretary John Kirby said recently that success for the U.S. mission in Ukraine is, at the end of this conflict, a free and independent, sovereign Ukraine. I wholeheartedly agree, but if that is our mission, then America cannot hold back. I believe the U.S. should help facilitate the transfer of the Polish MiG fighter jets and quickly backfill Poland with our own F-16s. We must also continue to flow lethal aid and weapons into Ukraine at a faster pace. Part of the solution may require re-allocating pre-positioned military equipment around the world, including weapons meant for the Afghan National Security Forces.

Through the recent Ukraine aid package passed by Congress and signed into law, I successfully included a provision that allows President Joe Biden to do this — and I will work to ensure he follows through. 

Finally, it is the consensus of America and our NATO allies that Putin must be held accountable for any crimes he has committed. Barbarity and cruelty cannot go unpunished. Ukrainian and Western observers say Russian forces have bombed hundreds of schools, shelled maternity hospitals and preyed on the innocent. I believe he is a war criminal, and we must hold him to account.

Going forward, America’s commitment to Ukraine and to our NATO allies must endure. Defending freedom in Ukraine is defending freedom everywhere. And a commitment to allies and partners keeps America prosperous and our families safe. Authoritarians, whether in Afghanistan, Russia, Iran or China, cannot dictate our national security or how we run our economy. We are the world’s superpower, and we cannot be pushed around.

Putin is pushing on Ukraine today, but he is also pushing on us. Will we honor the nearly 28-year-old Budapest agreement or surrender a key U.S. partner to a lawless dictator? The choice is clear. Ukraine is ready to fight and win. And with our help, I believe it can.

Source: This post first appeared on NBC News

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