Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was set to focus on Russia in a foreign policy speech in Iowa Friday, just days after the country began airstrikes in Syria. Rubio was hoping to capitalize on positive press he has been getting following the attacks by the Kremlin, which he predicted two weeks ago during the second Republican presidential debate.
Rubio, according to prepared remarks, would tell his audience in the first caucus state that as president he would impose a fresh round of sanctions on high-level Russian officials and Russian corporations, such as the state energy company Gazprom. He would also begin helping Ukraine with lethal military aid.
"We are barreling toward a second Cold War, and strong American leadership is the only force capable of ensuring that peace and security once again prevail," Rubio was to say, according to excerpts from his prepared remarks. "The significance of Russia's recent military activity in Syria cannot be downplayed. It is no less noteworthy as a power play than the invasion of Ukraine."
Russia launched airstrikes in Syria Wednesday, reportedly giving the White House just one hour's notice. U.S. sources gave mixed messages about the Russian attacks, with the White House and State Department attempting to downplay their importance, while the Pentagon was openly critical. Russia's backing of President Bashar Assad, who has seemingly been losing his grip on power, will exacerbate conditions in the war-torn country, the Pentagon said.
Rubio accurately predicted during the second Republican debate in September that the Kremlin would begin airstrikes in Syria "in the next few weeks." He argued that Russia would be doing so to reassert itself as a major world superpower and challenge American dominance. The strategy would be to fight the Islamic state group, but also to prop up Assad, Rubio argued.
The junior senator from Florida has been rising in the polls since that debate performance. He polled at just above 5 percent in averages of national polls in mid-September, but has since jumped to 9.5 percent. That puts him in fourth place in the crowded field, and the highest polling candidate who has held public office.
Sanctions on some Russian individuals and entities are in place already. The first Ukraine-related sanctions set into place by President Barack Obama came in March 2014.