Signs of bipartisanship in Washington are as welcome as the first flowers of Spring, albeit much rarer. An example of bipartisanship with important implications for U.S. and European security is the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 introduced in the U.S. Senate yesterday by the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Bob Corker (R-TN), respectively. The United States paid a high price in blood and treasure to help create and then secure a free and democratic Europe. Now that enterprise is threatened by Russian aggression. Helping Ukraine to secure its independence and resist Russian coercion must be a core objective of U.S. national security.
In the face of the weak response by the Obama Administration to Russian aggression, Senators Menendez and Corker recognized the need to press the White House to take more decisive action. The Ukraine Freedom Act is intended to send a strong and unambiguous message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the U.S. stands with Ukraine and that this country will take the necessary steps to thwart its plans and force it to pay an unacceptable price. It is also focused on taking both near and farther-term measures that would have the practical effect of helping Ukraine defend itself. In the words of Senator Menendez, “In the face of Russian aggression, Ukraine needs our steadfast and determined support, not an ambiguous response. We are left with no choice but to apply tough sanctions against Russia, coupled with military assistance to Ukraine.”
The Ukraine Freedom Support Act strikes at the heart of Russian economic interests and the sources of Vladimir Putin’s power. It would require the administration to apply tough additional sanctions on the Russian arms industry and on companies worldwide that invest in the Russian oil industry. Perhaps even more important, it takes direct aim at Russian efforts to use natural gas as a tool of coercion. It imposes sanctions on the Russian state gas monopoly, Gazprom, if the administration determines that the company is “withholding significant natural gas supplies from member countries of NATO or further withholds such supplies from countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, or Moldova.” Since Gazprom has already refused Ukraine new supplies of gas for the coming winter and reduced its current exports to Poland, a NATO member, in an attempt to punish it for passing some of its gas to Ukraine, this company needs to be sanctioned.
Senators Menendez and Corker also directly address the administration’s ridiculous policy of only providing non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine. As that country’s President, Petro Poroshenko, pointed out in his speech before a joint session of Congress, “blankets and night vision goggles are important but one cannot win the war with blankets.” The Act authorizes the President to provide Ukraine with real military hardware including anti-tank and anti-armor weapons; crew weapons and ammunition; counter-artillery radars; fire control, range finder, and optical guidance and control equipment; tactical surveillance drones; and secure command and communications equipment. It should be noted that this is the same kinds of hardware we are planning to provide the Syrian moderate insurgents.
In addition, the Act proposes taking important steps towards freeing Ukraine from dependence on Russian energy. It requires the administration to work with Ukraine to develop a short-term emergency energy assistance plan that will help Ukraine address a potential fuel and electricity shortage in 2014-15. It also requires the administration to develop medium- and long-term plans to increase energy production and efficiency to improve energy security in Ukraine. This last item is particularly important. Ukraine’s major electric power generation plants are not only dependent on Russian gas supplies but are obsolete, inefficient and leak like sieves. Converting these plants to other energy sources and making them cleaner would protect Ukraine’s security, bolster its economy and simultaneously help clean up the environment.
Senators Menendez and Corker should be commended for their effort to define a strong, strategic and bipartisan policy towards Ukraine. The rest of Congress and the administration needs to get on board the Ukraine Freedom Support Act.
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