WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following speech on the Senate Floor, as prepared for delivery, about the latest developments in Ukraine and the need to implement the Ukraine Freedom Support Act.
“M. President, I rise once again in support of the people of Ukraine in their struggle against Russian aggression. The most recent diplomatic efforts seem to have only emboldened Putin.
“Since Minsk II, which is the last time they came to an agreement which regards to a ceasefire, there have been hundreds of ceasefire violations and the city of Debaltseve has fallen under rebel control. Putin’s forces now threaten Mariupol which would provide a key land bridge to Crimea, and his intentions are clear. In my view, we need to urgently increase the cost to Putin with tougher sanctions and by providing more security assistance to the Ukrainian military.
“At a press conference on February 9th with Chancellor Merkel, the President said that his team was considering options including the provision of defensive military equipment if the diplomatic effort with respect to Russia has failed. As recent events have shown, Minsk II is clearly dead and we need to take a different approach.
“At so many points in history, there have been opportunities for the international community to deter rogue actors from violating the sovereignty of other countries. Unless bullies like Putin are confronted – they will always bully, they will always force a response, they will always be an even greater problem for their neighbors and for the broader international community. Putin took Crimea, Putin took Donetsk, Putin took Luhansk and last week he took Debaltseve. While he has paid a price because of the sanctions regime, that price has not changed his behavior – in fact, like all bullies – it has emboldened him.
“Now is the time to increase the cost to Putin. Now is the time to increase sanctions on Russia, and work with Europe to consider additional sanctions in other sectors of the economy. And now is the time for the President to abide by his commitment on February 9th. Now is the time to provide badly needed weapons to the Ukrainian government and rethink our strategic response to Russian encroachment in Ukraine and across the former soviet territories. The international community simply cannot remain passive in the face of such unbridled aggression that will only invite further aggression.
“I call upon the administration to fully implement measures that this body authorized when it passed the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which the President signed into law on December 18th. Last month, I wrote to Secretary Kerry in the wake of the bloodiest period since the start of this crisis. I urged the administration to fully implement the authorities provided in the law and to comply with the clear reporting deadlines.
“The legislation passed – with unanimous consent – in both houses of Congress. It authorizes the President to provide much-needed military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. And it imposes additional sanctions against Russia in this time of crisis. The legislation was necessary in December, and is even more necessary today.
“We know that the sanctions implemented by the United States and the European Union have had a tangible effect on the Russian economy. Combined with the decrease in global energy markets, they have put unprecedented pressure on Putin. But he is undeterred. He continues to provide illegitimate and illegal support to separatists in Eastern Ukraine, evidenced by OSCE and NATO reports cataloguing the growing number of Russian troop and artillery that remains in the region and as evidenced by the spike in violence by so-called “Russian-backed separatists” against both military troops and civilians.
“Russian troops and these so-called “Russian-backed rebels” have carried out deadly attacks on civilians in Eastern Ukraine. They’ve killed scores. They’ve killed women. They’ve killed children. They’ve ignored Minsk I. They’ve ignored Minsk II. And now they’ve gained control of Debaltseve and have made moves towards Mariupol. This must end. The violence must end, the killing must end. We must renew our commitment to the people of Ukraine and stand against Putin’s blatant aggression.
“I appreciate the administration’s comprehensive efforts to counter Russian aggression, but I also believe it is not enough. We must act immediately to influence the course of events on the ground and urge the President to fully implement the Ukraine Freedom Support Act. The violence is threatening Ukraine’s territorial integrity. And its threatening the region. The international community has an obligation to respond to Putin’s clear signals that his intention is to escalate tensions in Ukraine and across the region.
“Since Senator Corker and I – along with other Committee members – introduced the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, Putin has escalated his belligerent and aggressive tactics. NATO was deployed more than 400 times last year to intercept Russian military flights near members’ European airspace.
“In July 2014, Ukrainian pilot, Nadiya Savchenko, was captured by Russian forces and is being illegally detained in Russia, despite Russia’s commitment in Minsk to free her. In September of last year, Russians abducted Estonian Internal Security Service officer, Eston Kohver, from Estonian territory. He was taken to Moscow where he has been languishing in prison without due process. In October, Sweden’s military discovered what it believed was a Russian submarine outside Stockholm. In December, about a dozen Russian aircraft including bombers, flew into the Baltic Sea region. In January, attacks on civilian buses took the lives of 20 Ukrainians.
“It is time for the international community to say enough is enough. In my view, M. President, fully implementing the sanctions and assistance in the Ukraine Freedom Support Act will help Ukraine restore its sovereignty. It will help restore its territorial integrity and it will help deter Russia from further destabilizing the region.
“I urge the President to implement these measures immediately, without delay. That said, I understand that there are individuals on the EU and Canadian targeted sanctions list who do not appear on the American list. Why is this the case? Perhaps the most egregious example is Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the Russian FSB.
“Mr. Bortnikov is not on the U.S. lists in relation to either Ukraine or the Magnitsky act, but is on EU and Canadian lists. To make matters worse, Mr. Bortnikov was here – in the U.S. – last week for President Obama’s CVE conference. To say that I am puzzled would be an understatement.
“The fact is –there are almost 150 individuals and entities on the EU and Canadian sanctions lists that are not on the U.S. lists. If there is no justifiable reason for excluding these individuals, then they should be added.
“Yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary Kerry indicated that these lists will be synched in the coming days. We will keep a close eye on this process – clearly, for the international effort to be effective, we need to be in lock step with our Canadian and European allies.
“When we passed this legislation in December, it coincided with a Wall Street Journal report about the fortune Russians were spending to lobby Washington against passing the bill. They claimed the sanctions would affect the West’s willingness to invest in Russia. I say that this is exactly what these sanctions should do. Putin is using his military power to impose his will in Ukraine, but he is also using every economic tool at his disposal and we must do the same. We must make it clear to Mr. Putin that there will be consequences for his actions.
“I urge the President to implement our bill now. The military situation – on the ground – is clear: The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, NATO, and the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council have all reported on the presence of Russian military convoys and troops in eastern Ukraine. Fear is mounting in Maruipol that pro-Russian rebels, with Russia’s support, will conduct further attacks to ease land access to Crimea from Russia. If Russia continues down this path – its illegal occupation will be solidified and Putin clearly intends to continue to play games.
“Prior to Minsk II, Oleksandr Zakharchenko, the head of the separatists in Donetsk, said: "There will be no more ceasefires" -- and that the separatists would not stop their attacks until they had “reached the borders of the former Donetsk region." He has stayed true to his word – No More Ceasefires. He issued an order to “take no prisoners” – claiming that the separatists were no longer interested in prisoner swaps.
“M. President, I say to my colleagues, the situation is dire and it is becoming increasingly clear that we are not doing enough to change it. We must raise the costs to Putin and his cronies by providing Ukraine with the assistance it needs to defend itself.
“The world is watching and waiting and the time is now. The Ukraine Freedom Support Act explicitly authorized the provision of defensive military assistance. Let’s provide it. Let’s provide anti-tank and anti-armor weapons, crew weapons and ammunition. Let’s provide counter-artillery radars to identify and target artillery batteries, fire control, range finder, and optical and guidance control equipment. Let’s provide tactical troop-operated surveillance drones, and secure command and communications equipment.
“The administration was required to report to Congress on February 15 regarding its plan for increasing military assistance to the government of Ukraine. Ten days later, we are still waiting on this report. I urge the President to impose the more stringent sanctions on Russia’s defense and energy sectors that we outlined in our bill.
“I urge him to enact further sanctions on Rosoboronexport and other Russian defense firms that we know contribute to instability in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Syria. These firms outfit pro-Russian rebels and Russian troops who have invaded eastern Ukraine and established illegitimate republics recognized by no one but President Putin. It’s time to enact those sanctions.
“It is time we put an end to the chaos and violence these firms spread around the world. And it’s time to impose additional targeted sanctions on the Russian energy sector to add to existing sanctions that are already costing the Russian economy about $140 billion per year – or about 7 percent of its economy.
“By imposing the energy sanctions called for in the Act, the Administration would tighten restrictions on the development of shale deposits, Arctic drilling, and offshore drilling. The Ukraine Freedom Support Act called for the administration to impose sanctions on other defense industry targets as well as on special Russian crude oil projects by January 31. And I am still waiting on the administration’s response.
“M. President, On September 18th, Petro Poroshenko addressed a joint-session of Congress. We applauded his message of solidarity. Now is the time to move past the applause. Now is the time to stand together – in solidarity – with the people of Ukraine.
“President Poroshenko asked us for arms. He asked us for aid. And he asked us for tougher sanctions on Russia. We all want a diplomatic solution to this problem, but I believe that this can only come about when Putin believes that the cost of continuing to ravage Ukraine is simply too high. We have a responsibility to increase that cost.
“I ask the President to heed this call and fully exercise the authorities granted by the Ukraine Freedom Support Act – and do it now! With that, M. President, I yield the floor.”
April 22, 2021