Speaking before Congress on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned the House Foreign Affairs Committee that failing to stop Russia in Ukraine could mean much greater costs in the future. That included the possibility of deploying U.S. troops to Europe should Putin invade a NATO ally.
Republican representatives present at the event seemed to get it. As The Messenger reports, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul understood Austin’s warning. “If [Vladimir] Putin takes over Ukraine, he'll get Moldova, Georgia, then maybe the Baltics,” McCaul said following the briefing. He noted that the idea of more troops on the ground in Europe was “what we're trying to avoid."
However, by Thursday, fired Fox News pundit and Putin supporter Tucker Carlson had distorted Austin’s words into what Carlson insisted was an attempt at extorting further aid for Ukraine. Writing on X (formerly Twitter), Carlson claimed that Austin threatened to send “your uncles, cousins and sons to fight Russia” unless more money was handed over to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Not surprisingly, every word of this was a lie—a lie even Fox News has debunked.
Fox’s chief national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin responded that Carlson’s claim was “100 percent not true.” What Austin said was what many officials have said from the outset: Failing to stop Russia in Ukraine invites Putin to expand his ambitions to other countries in Europe.
None of the language that Carlson used in his post has been confirmed by any other source. That didn’t stop X owner Elon Musk from wading in to reply, asking Carlson, “He really said this?” to which Carlson replied, “He really did. Confirmed.”
Except no. Had Austin actually said this before a Republican-led House committee, Congress members would have emerged from the room boiling mad, and it would have been the major story of the day. They didn’t, and it wasn’t, because Austin never made the statement Carlson claims.
In May, USA Today produced a timeline of Carlon’s extensive love affair with Russia. It includes such highlights as Carlson claiming that American liberals hate America more than Putin and claiming that reporters interfered in the 2016 election more than Russia because they released “the Access Hollywood tapes.” And there’s this:
Carlson is now deliberately attempting to fuel conspiracy theories around U.S. support for Ukraine and weaken the Ukrainian military. As Carlson was posting his false claims, Austin was in Ukraine, where he spoke with Zelenskyy and informed him that no more assistance was forthcoming unless Congress appropriated additional funds.
Warnings like the one Austin delivered in Congress have been a constant feature of military analysis since the illegal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, 2022. As NATO Review made clear in July 2022, “Putin’s regime has chosen confrontation with the ‘collective West,’ irrespective of the costs for Russia itself.”
Russian leadership has threatened that the war will continue into Poland, the Balkans, and even Germany and the U.K. Putin wants to crush the West, write his name in the history books, and restore the Russian empire.
What Austin said isn’t extortion, or even controversial. If Putin is allowed to benefit from an illegal invasion, he will do it again. Right now, the Ukrainian army is doing an amazing job of smashing Russian forces and destroying thousands of tanks, armored vehicles, and aircraft. But they are fighting an enemy that vastly outnumbers them in manpower, equipment, and wealth. They cannot succeed without sustained assistance.
If he wins in Ukraine, Putin will next bring the war to an allied nation that the U.S. has sworn to defend using our own forces. The cost of that will be vastly greater than anything being provided to Ukraine and if Congress doesn’t act, that’s where the world is headed.
That’s not extortion: That’s the truth. And it’s why Russian state media is thrilled about what Republicans have been doing to block funding for Ukraine—and why Putin has sent his congratulations to Republicans for their work in blocking Ukrainian assistance.