Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) suggested the U.S. may need to step up its military support for Ukraine if Russian President Vladimir Putin escalates further and repeats the horrific tactics used in the 11-year-old war in Syria.
“I deeply worry that what’s going to happen next is that we will see Ukraine turn into Syria. The American people cannot turn away from this tragedy in Ukraine. I think the history of the 21st century turns on how fiercely we defend freedom in Ukraine and that Putin will only stop when we stop him,” Coons said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” when asked if he supported direct U.S. military involvement in Ukraine.
Last week, Coons said U.S. policymakers need to set clear guidelines about the use of military force ― including the sending of troops ― if Russia uses chemical weapons or if some sort of accident leads to the death of U.S. service members in the region.
“We are in a very dangerous moment where it is important that, in a bipartisan and measured way, we in Congress and the administration come to a common position about when we are willing to go the next step and to send not just arms but troops to the aid in defense of Ukraine,” the senator, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said during a discussion hosted by the University of Michigan.
He added: “If the answer is never then we are inviting another level of escalation in brutality by Putin.”
President Joe Biden has repeatedly ruled out sending U.S. troops to Ukraine, a move that could risk opening a wider war between two nuclear powers: the U.S. and Russia. The idea of sending troops to directly aid Ukraine is also broadly unpopular on Capitol Hill; even some of the staunchest war hawks on the Republican side of the aisle are opposed to it.
Coons sought to clarify his remarks on Monday, tweeting that he was “not calling for U.S. troops to go into the war in Ukraine.”
The senator said the global community “must be willing to take more forceful steps, from broadened sanctions to sending more advanced weapons to being prepared to respond if he escalates further in his war crimes against Ukraine.”
Biden hasn’t shied away from describing the horrors in Ukraine as a “genocide” or calling Putin a “war criminal.” The president also approved another $800 million of weapons systems and other security assistance to Ukraine, on top of billions of dollars in aid already approved by Congress. Top lawmakers have suggested Congress will need to pass another security assistance package as Russia regroups and prepares a new offensive in eastern Ukraine.
As the war in Ukraine, which began at the end of February, turns to a new phase, journalists and Ukrainian authorities have reported horrific scenes in towns and villages left by fleeing Russian troops, including mass graves, executions, torture, rape and looting involving Ukrainian civilians.
“The most terrible war crimes we’ve seen since the end of World War II are being committed,” Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in a televised speech to the United Nations General Assembly earlier this month, later arguing that “Russia wants to turn Ukraine into silent slaves.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.