Friday, February 3, 2017
Senator Menendez Exclusive: No Retreat from Supporting Ukraine
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), in an exclusive cyber-interview with The Torn Curtain 1991, assured Ukraine and Ukrainian Americans that he and his like-minded colleagues on Capitol Hill will not retreat from supporting Ukraine and other countries that face Russian aggression.
Menendez further said opposing political winds in the United States would not sway him from advocating on behalf of Ukraine. He noted Russia’s aggression against Ukraine was emboldened by the mere hint of the Trump Administration’s softened stance toward Russia.
Menendez is the senior member and former chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the architect of Russian sanctions legislation.
The full transcript of the interview follows. It was submitted to Senator Menendez before the latest escalation of Russian hostilities against Ukraine this past weekend.
The Torn Curtain 1991: The biggest question on the minds of Ukrainians (in Ukraine and Ukrainian Americans) as well as citizens of the former captive nations is should they fear that the United States will abandon its traditional support for their independence and sovereignty with the inauguration of Donald Trump as President? Will lawmakers such as you and your colleagues in the Ukrainian Congressional Caucus have the political strength to continue supporting those countries that are in the shadow of a belligerent Russia?
Senator Menendez: I have and will continue to stand with Ukrainians and all the Baltic and Eastern European peoples who live in fear of Russian aggression. I stand strongly in favor of democracy, the rule of law, and the territorial sovereignty and safety of independent countries in the face of subversion, threats of invasion, and — in the case of Ukraine—actual invasion by the Russian military. My fundamental belief in these principles will not be swayed by political winds in the United States. I have expressed alarm at any hints of warming to Russia under Vladimir Putin and many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have joined in expressing concern and doubt as well. I have faith that my colleagues who have been supportive of Ukraine in the past will continue to be.
Additionally, it is clear that we cannot back down in our support for democratic countries in the face of Russian aggression. At the mere hint that President Trump would take a softer stance towards Russia, we have seen pro-Russian forces emboldened and renew fighting in places like Avdiyivka in Eastern Ukraine.
The Torn Curtain 1991: Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2014, almost three years ago. That’s half the duration of World War II. Why do you think the free world’s combined response has been so lukewarm? Should the free world condemn Putin like it did Hitler seven decades ago?
Senator Menendez: My own response, along with many of my colleagues, to Russia’s destabilization of the post-war order was strong and decisive. In 2014, I led co-sponsorship of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which imposed sanctions on individuals and companies that contributed to instability in Ukraine or provided support for Russia’s invasion. The legislation also authorized military assistance directly to Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. Internationally, several of Ukraine’s Eastern European neighbors certainly understand how Russia’s aggression threatens the sovereignty and territorial integrity of independent nations at large. However, I do believe the world must indeed do more to condemn and counter Russia’s annexation of Ukraine. We must have a united front to counter Putin’s overarching strategy of dividing and fracturing the Western alliance system. We must apply the lessons that bullying must be met with steadfast resolve. Division must be met with unity amongst the nations of the free world.
The Torn Curtain 1991: President Poroshenko and Ukrainian Americans are urging the White House and Congress to send lethal weapons to Ukraine and other tangible assistance under HR 5094. Do you favor that and how will it help Ukraine?
Senator Menendez: The United States must support Ukraine as the endangered and embattled democracy that it is. When I visited Ukraine and met with President Poroshenko at the height of Russia’s invasion, I committed to using my voice, my influence, and my vote to do everything possible to assist Ukrainians, both in terms of resisting further Russian military advances and rebuilding the country’s shaken economy and institutions under attack. I authored legislation in 2014 that authorized military assistance to Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression and I maintain that is the correct approach, when necessary, coupled with material, economic and non-lethal assistance. I also sponsored the STAND for Ukraine Act in the Senate at the end of last Congress. I believe it is in the fundamental national security interests of the United States to protect and defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and to send a clear signal around the world that those facing aggression will have a strong friend in the United States.
The Torn Curtain 1991: The Minsk truce that Russia signed and violated numerous times is not bringing Russia’s war against Ukraine closer to a conclusion. Are sanctions the only effective way to force Moscow to withdraw from all occupied regions of Ukraine – Crimea and Donbas? Should Russia also be banned from the global table until it does?
Senator Menendez: Sanctions can be the most powerful and peaceful leverage we have in our arsenal of diplomatic tools. Sanctions must be coupled with resolve and a credible threat of stronger actions. We must not roll back sanctions against Russia until Russia proves it is a willing partner in the global international order, respects the territorial sovereignty of its neighbors, and stops international provocation. Last month, in fact, my colleagues and I introduced the Countering Russian Hostilities Act, which would expand sanctions on Russia for its continued occupation of Ukraine, for its interference in our own electoral process, and provide support for those in its immediate sphere.
The Torn Curtain 1991: Are you concerned that Vladimir Putin will escalate the war against Ukraine with a major westward push toward Kyiv, Lviv and even Vilnius or Warsaw?
Senator Menendez: We must take Russian aggression and threats of aggression seriously. Russian forces continue to amass along the border of these countries, and reports show that they could move with some swiftness across the border of these countries. We must support Eastern European countries as they enhance their militaries, and protect critical infrastructure, both physical and cyber. Additionally, as the Countering Russian Hostilities Act does, we must provide support for democratic institutions, public diplomacy efforts that support a free press and the free flow of information in the face of Russian disinformation campaigns aimed to disrupt and undermine democratic governance structures and institutions.
The Torn Curtain 1991: As Ukraine transitions from a Soviet mentality, the government and population still endure a corrupt mindset. How can the United States help Ukraine overcome corruption without harming its ability to successfully defend itself against Russian aggression?
Senator Menendez: Governance institutions that promote democracy, the rule of law, and a free and reliable press are the foundations of a strong country everywhere in the world. A democratically elected government with a robust judicial system and media in which all citizens place faith will be a critical component of countering Russian aggression. These institutions also help promote stable economic development, which will be critical for building a wealthy society where citizens are secure, and help maintain support for a capable and robust military presence. Russia will only be more successful in penetrating Ukrainian society if Ukrainians have reason to turn on their own institutions as not supportive of the people and their aspirations.