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SD leaders respond to Russian invasion, unclear if Ellsworth will play role

SD leaders Russia Ukraine
Josh Haiar

South Dakota's congressional delegation and governor are supporting sanctions against Russia and military aid to Ukraine while slamming Vladimir Putin's invasion and President Joe Biden's energy policy choices.

The South Dakota leaders say Biden's cancellation of U.S energy projects and sanctions against a Russian pipeline means less leverage for the United States and more money and power for Russia as the country invades Ukraine.

Meanwhile, it's unclear if Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City will play any role in the conflict.

The base has B-1 bombers and remote-operated drones that can drop bombs and provide surveillance.

"I don't think it'll surprise anybody on the world stage if the men and women at Ellsworth step up and provide some assistance in the difficult days ahead," Rep. Dusty Johnson told SDPB. "The reality is that B-1 bomber has been called into service in a variety of different types of missions so often over the course of the last couple of decades that frankly, it would be unusual if there was a major military happening in the world and the B1 wasn't on standby and wasn't called into service."

But Johnson said any specific information about Ellsworth would be classified and a spokesperson for the base did not immediately respond to questions.

Biden announced Thursday that the U.S. would impose sanctions on Russian banks and is joining other countries in ending exports of high-tech products.

The U.S. has already begun other sanctions against Russian financial institutions and oligarchs and sent troops to neighboring NATO countries.

South Dakota leaders are linking Russia's invasion and the U.S.'s ability to respond to Biden's energy and foreign policy decisions.

Gov. Kristi Noem wrote in a Fox News opinion piece that Biden made a mistake by canceling bipartisan sanctions on the Russian company that is building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany.

"In doing so, they handed away leverage to the Russians and doomed Ukraine in the process," she wrote.

Biden reinstated those sanctions on Wednesday and Germany has halted the project.

Noem also had a Fox News appearance where Sean Hannity asked how Biden's foreign and energy policy "make any sense from a geopolitical standpoint?”

She responded, in part: “It feels planned to me, Sean. There is just no way he could possibly get all of those wrong and not know what it was going to do and how it was going to put us where we sit today with Putin.”

Ian Fury, Noem's spokesman, said the "planned" comment relates to Noem's argument in her opinion piece where she said Biden's decision on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline might be influenced by his son's business connections in Russia and Ukraine.

Noem also said Biden made a mistake when he canceled a key permit for the Canadian-owned Keystone XL pipeline that would have run through South Dakota.

Keystone would give "America the flexibility to counter Russian aggression by expanding energy exports to Europe," she wrote.

However, the pipeline — which Noem said Biden should "restart and expedite" — would likely not be ready by now.

"The Keystone XL pipeline would still not have been close to completion. It was at least a year away," energy journalist David Gaffen wrote on Twitter.

Sen. John Thune agrees Biden made a mistake with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which he called "the Putin Pipeline."

"The United States and its partners must stand united against Russian hostilities, including by implementing biting sanctions that target the Russian energy sector that seeks to prey on Western energy security," he wrote in a statement.

Sen. Mike Rounds echoed concerns about Biden canceling sanctions on the Russian pipeline project during a Feb. 18 interview with SDPB.

"Literally days after that is when the buildup on Ukraine began," he said.

Rounds also criticized Biden's cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline and limits on energy projects on federal land.

"Now Mr. Putin benefited from that because he's still producing petroleum products in the worldwide market and getting over 90 dollars a barrel. He's using that to fund his war efforts," he said.

But some experts are pushing back on the idea that different energy policies could have prevented the current situation and can now be used to make a difference.

"The US is currently producing close to its limit," energy expert Gregory Brew wrote on Twitter.
""Drill baby, drill!" or "Restore KXL" are not useful solutions in the near term."

Oil and gas wells aren't a "faucet," echoed Gaffen. "Biden cannot order output to just “start."

Brew said Russia has a short-term ability to withstand any shutdown to its energy sales to Europe. He said Russia could easily divert its oil but not gas to other countries.

"Iran-style sanctions on Russian oil would take months, if not years to apply (assuming China cooperates)," he wrote.

Sanctions, aid

Noem and the congressional delegation say Biden should have already had strong sanctions in place.

But the congressional delegation said it's happy to see action.

Johnson said Biden's sanctions can make a real difference.

"We have a tendency to think of Russia as such a massive power because of the history of the Soviet Union, but the Russian economy is smaller than Italy's economy. And they require, they rely on American capital," he said.

Johnson said he's also glad to see other countries implementing sanctions.

"We cannot do that on our own. I mean America does about $20 billion dollars worth of trade with Russia a year. Well, Europe does $200 billion dollars a year," he said.

Johnson acknowledged that sanctions will have a negative impact on Russian civilians but said the choice is between sanctions or military intervention.

Johnson and Rounds said they are against sending U.S. troops into Ukraine since it's not a member of NATO.

"We will not be sending troops in to Ukraine because we don't have a moral or a legal obligation to do so," Rounds said.

But Rounds said he supports Biden's decision to increase troops in neighboring NATO countries and send weapons to Ukraine.

Rounds and Thune are among the Republicans pushing for the Never Yielding Europe’s Territory Act.

The bill addresses sanctions that Biden has now imposed but would also increase military aid and funding for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty "to counter Russian propaganda and disinformation about Ukraine."