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SALT LAKE CITY — As Russian President Vladimir Putin sent forces to "maintain peace" in separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, a new poll shows nearly half of Utahns favor sending U.S. troops to Eastern Europe to deter an all-out invasion.
The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics survey found three-fourths of Utah residents are concerned about the buildup of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine.
The Kremlin decree, spelled out in an order signed by Putin on Monday, left unclear when, or even whether, troops would enter Ukraine after Russia designated those two areas as independent, according to the Associated Press. But it further fueled fears of an imminent invasion and underscored the steep challenges the U.S. and Western nations face in staving off a military conflict they have portrayed as near-inevitable.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden imposed severe economic sanctions on Russia, saying that "if Russia goes further with this invasion, we stand prepared to go further as with sanctions."
Putin, the president said, is setting up the rationale to take more territory by force.
"This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine," Biden said.
Biden said the U.S. would continue to provide "defensive assistance" to Ukraine. He said he also authorized the movement of U.S. forces and equipment already stationed in Europe to strengthen NATO allies Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
"Let me be clear. These are totally defensive moves on our part. We have no intention of fighting Russia," the president said.
In the Deseret News/Hinckley poll, 46% of Utah voters supported sending the U.S. military into Eastern Europe, while 42% were opposed. Another 11% don't know.
Republicans and moderate voters were more in favor of dispatching troops than were Democrats and liberal voters, the survey shows. Older Utahns were more likely than younger residents to support mobilizing American soldiers.
Biden ordered the deployment of an additional 3,000 U.S. soldiers to NATO ally Poland on Feb. 11, joining some 1,700 soldiers who arrived there at the start of the month.
Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, called Biden's positioning of U.S. troops in Poland, Germany and Russian his "least effective strategy."
Vladimir Putin's KGB mentality drives his malevolent obsession for repression and regression: he shamelessly abuses the sovereignty of a democratic nation to foster his foolhardy dream of rebuilding a soviet empire. The response from NATO must be unified and withering.
–Sen. Mitt Romney
"This was a major physical movement, but it is moot for a simple reason: Putin has no immediate intention of threatening these nations. His present mission is the invasion of Ukraine, and we aren't doing enough to help them defend against Russia's aggression," Stewart wrote in an op-ed for Fox News last week.
In a statement Monday, Stewart said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was right in saying that demanding strong actions from world leaders and sanctions against Russia won't matter after his country has been bombarded and partially occupied.
"We failed to take necessary action, and his words should now haunt Western leaders," Stewart said.
"President Biden's strategy of restraint, in the hope of not provoking Putin, was doomed from the start. Still, it is not too late to help Ukraine defend itself without involving U.S. soldiers," the congressman said. "Putin does not fear bordering troops, light sanctions or President Biden, but there is one clear path to beating back Russian aggression: a well-armed, well-organized Ukrainian resistance."
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, raised questions about the president's decision to send U.S. forces to Europe. Instead of acting as the world police force, the U.S. should demand that its allies take the lead in their own security, he said.
"I worry a lot about getting into war," he told Utah Senate Democrats during a visit to the state Capitol on Tuesday.
The attacks on international peace must be met with a swift, decisive and unified response.
–Rep. Burgess Owens
"The more troops we move into the area, the closer they get to a conflict zone, to a place where violent actions are actually taking place," Lee said. "Ukraine is not our war to fight."
Asked what he believes will happen over the next 48 hours, Lee said of Putin, "I think he continues to roll through."
The poll showed 76% of Utahns were either very concerned or concerned (evenly split at 38%) over Russia amassing troops along its border with Ukraine. Another 19% were not concerned, while 5% don't know.
The level was nearly equal across all political ideologies, according to the poll. Again, older Utahns were more concerned than younger residents, though concern was high among all age groups.
Dan Jones & Associates conducted the poll for the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute of Politics of 808 registered voters in Utah on Feb. 7-17. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.45 percentage points.
"Vladimir Putin's KGB mentality drives his malevolent obsession for repression and regression: he shamelessly abuses the sovereignty of a democratic nation to foster his foolhardy dream of rebuilding a soviet empire. The response from NATO must be unified and withering," Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said in a statement Monday.
Members of Utah's congressional delegation are calling for the U.S. to impose strong sanctions on Russia, while also considering other options.
"The U.S. must work with NATO and impose the most severe and swift sanctions possible on Russia. We must consider all options at our disposal to stop this attack by Putin," Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said Monday.
Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, said Russia's continued military aggression toward Ukraine is a "despicable" violation of territorial sovereignty and international law. The attacks on international peace must be met with a swift, decisive and unified response, he said.
"President Biden, along with our NATO allies, must stand with Ukraine and impose significant sanctions on Russia," Owens said.
Amos Guiora, a University of Utah law professor and foreign relations expert, said Biden must draw a line in the sand with Putin and be prepared to take whatever measures he decides if it is crossed. Continued Russian encroachment into Ukraine might mean Biden has to send a message that goes beyond sanctions, he said on KSL NewsRadio's "Dave and Dujanovic" show.
If Russia invades Ukraine, "it may well be that the president is going to have to draw that line, which would involve military personnel. I have no doubt that's the last thing he wants," Guiora said.
Contributing: Ashley Imlay