America must stand with Ukraine: Rob Portman
By Rob Portman
June 06, 2014
In response to Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and Russian-backed violence in the eastern part of the country, the United States promised the people of Ukraine that if they would stand with us and embrace democracy, transparency and an open society, we would stand with them.
In elections held last month, the people of Ukraine chose to do just that. Now it is time for the United States to make good on our word.
As the Ukrainian people were casting their vote, I had the honor of acting as one of the official presidential election observers, visiting six different polling stations. I met with Ukrainians who were unafraid, even in the face of threats and intimidation, because of their commitment to a free and independent Ukraine that aligns with Europe and the United States. But if that commitment is going to become a reality, then the people of Ukraine need our help.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, our foreign policy focus shifted from Europe to the Middle East. The Obama administration has now announced an Asian pivot in our foreign policy priorities. That's understandable. But while we turn our eyes to the Pacific, we cannot forget Ukraine and our other allies in Eastern Europe.
President Barack Obama can take several concrete actions to demonstrate our commitment to Ukraine and key NATO allies in the region like Poland and the Baltic states. We should continue to work with our European allies to assist in the effort to restore the crumbling Ukrainian economy left by the corrupt Russian-backed government that the people of Ukraine replaced earlier this year. We must also ensure that Russia faces real consequences for its actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
While the administration has imposed some sanctions on Russia and taken steps to support Ukraine and reassure our NATO allies, these actions are mostly reactive half-measures taken to respond to the situation on the ground, rather than shape it.
With a number of my colleagues in the Senate, I recently introduced the Russian Aggression Prevention Act, which provides a comprehensive strategy to change the current dynamic by renewing our commitment to NATO, imposing meaningful sanctions on Russia and strengthening Ukraine and other non-NATO allies.
The bill authorizes exports of U.S. natural gas to all World Trade Organization members, including vulnerable countries in Europe such as Ukraine that depend on Russian natural gas exports. It also increases U.S. support for the armed forces of Poland and the Baltic States, and authorizes badly needed military support to Ukraine, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and small arms.
We must act to ensure leaders in Europe do not question the willingness of the United States to take a lead role in ensuring peace, stability, and democracy across the continent. Taking these steps would go a long way toward restoring their trust.
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