By Emma Nelson
Two Democratic members of Minnesota's congressional delegation were among the world leaders who attended this month's Munich Security Conference, where the looming Russian invasion of Ukraine was top of mind.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Betty McCollum were part of a bipartisan group that attended the two-day forum on international security policy, where they met with political and business leaders and Klobuchar spoke on a panel with the British foreign secretary, Finnish president and Polish prime minister.
"This conference happens quite often, but it's never happened before with this crisis that Russia was creating," said McCollum, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee, in an interview Tuesday. "You could feel the energy in the room that we were united and we were strong in standing up to this Russian aggression."
That aggression culminated in a full-scale invasion that began Thursday, drawing global condemnation and prompting an escalation of European and American sanctions against Russia.
"One of the reasons that I went to Munich this time was that I felt it was really important that at every level we work with other countries to make sure that we are coordinating when it comes to sanctions," Klobuchar said in an interview Thursday. "We have to call this out for what it is, and that means sanctions. That means heavy-duty sanctions."
The conflict is already roiling global financial markets, and it's expected that the ramifications of continued sanctions will trickle down to consumers worldwide. But Klobuchar emphasized that sanctions against Russia have bipartisan support among members of Congress, including from some Republicans who wanted the U.S. to act sooner.
"You're going to always hear questions of strategies and tactics," she said. "It's really important to know that the bulk of the Congress is united when it comes to tough sanctions right now, and condemning this invasion."
Klobuchar was part of a bipartisan group of senators who traveled to Ukraine in January and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. More than a million Ukrainians were living in the United States in 2018 — the most recent data available — including more than 18,000 in Minnesota.
After the invasion, members of Minnesota's delegation, both Democrats and Republicans, highlighted their support for Ukraine, with many saying they stand with the people there.
Though now unfolding thousands of miles away from the daily lives of most Americans, Russian President Vladimir Putin's quest to remake the modern world order could have dire and wide-reaching consequences if left unchecked, McCollum said.
"This is a historic moment," she said. "This is not a benign situation — this is a serious situation. And we haven't faced anything, I don't think, like this since the Cuban missile crisis."