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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Ukraine

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2015-02-10

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, it is ironic that the Senator from Ohio is presiding because I am going to speak about the situation in Ukraine.

    For the record, the Senator from Ohio, Mr. Portman, the current Presiding Officer, and I have now initiated a bipartisan caucus in the Senate concerned with the future of Ukraine, and my remarks will address that during the next minute or two.

    We are approaching the 1-year anniversary of a dark chapter in modern history, the forcible Russian seizure of sovereign territory in Ukraine. Perhaps the world shouldn't have been surprised by Russian President Putin's brazen attack on well-established international norms. We have seen this movie before when it comes to Mr. Putin, in Georgia in 2008, using military force to seize the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

    What we are facing in Ukraine is a threat to the foundation of European security agreements and norms of the last several decades. We are facing the use of military force by Putin to undermine a democratic sovereign nation's aspirations to join the international democratic community. These ugly threats and actions by Putin must not go unchallenged.

    That is why this week I wrote a bipartisan letter, along with the Presiding Officer, Senator Portman, as well as Senators Brown, Barrasso, Blumenthal, and others to President Obama urging the United States and NATO to work together to ensure Ukraine has the defensive capabilities and equipment to halt and reverse further Russian aggression.

    Thousands have been killed, thousands more displaced. A civilian airliner was shot down, murdering hundreds of innocent people, and nationalistic fervor and Soviet-style propaganda have been used to further rob the Russian and Ukrainian people of their own political freedoms.

    Let's recall how we got to this awful situation. In March of last year, Russian President Putin used manipulation and military might to annex the sovereign region of Crimea--not because Ukraine was about to join NATO, not because Ukraine was about to join the European Union, not because Ukraine was about to cut economic or historical ties to Russia, even if it did sign an association agreement with the European Union, and not because Russian-speaking Ukrainians were in any danger.

    No, Putin took this brazen and destabilizing action because he needed to rally nationalist sentiment in his own country for his own political survival--to protect his own kleptocracy. He did so because he needed a war to distract Russians from the frustrations they had over a weak national economy, domestic political repression, the elimination of Russia's free press and civic organizations, and increasing Russian exasperation with the heavyhanded rule of Mr. Putin.

    He did so because his ally and former Ukrainian President Yanukovych was democratically removed from office by a unanimous vote of the Ukrainian Parliament after he squandered negotiations for closer trade ties with the European Union and then presided over the murder of more than 100 of his own citizens. Apparently Putin did so because he felt aggrieved by the West.

    Instead of inspiring his own people to share the many talents and accomplishments of the Russian nation as part of the larger global community, Putin has spread a message of victimhood and the West is really still the enemy.

    What a waste. What an insult to the proud and talented Russian people. Putin's tactics are from the old Soviet playbook, tired and dated tactics of propaganda, military power, and domestic repression.

    The resulting destruction and human misery in Ukraine has been significant and has been increasing by the day. Thirteen innocent Ukrainian citizens, including pensioners and little children, were killed in a horrific bus attack last month in Volnovakha.

    The city of Mariupol recently came under shelling, killing 30 and injuring another 100 civilians--part of a likely attempt to militarily seize another strategic coastal area.

    Ukrainian Government forces and civilians have come under mounting fire in the strategic city of Debaltseve, where residents are fleeing by the busload. Russian heavy weapons and military personnel continue to brazenly flow into eastern Ukraine, despite Putin's refusal to acknowledge the obvious. Nearly 750,000 Ukrainian citizens are now living as displaced persons within their own country because of this offensive action by the Russians.

    The World Health Organization estimates that 5 million Ukrainians living in areas where the fighting is fiercest are in dire need of basic health care services. People trapped in the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk are essentially without any medical assistance. The Ukrainian officials say January was one of the bloodiest months in eastern Ukraine since the conflict started. All the while, Russia and its proxies in eastern Ukraine continue to balk at peace talks and even deny their military actions.

    Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States and Europe have worked to strengthen ties with Russia, to help it become a partner in the global community. Of course, our interests didn't always overlap, and there were disagreements. That is the nature of any international relationship. But to whip up anti-Western propaganda on state-controlled media and insult Russian people--they deserve more.

    The West didn't lock up Western opposition leaders whose only so- called crime was to disagree with Putin. The West didn't shut down all the independent media in Russia to deny the Russian people a free flow of ideas. The West didn't shut down Russian groups whose sole purpose was to ensure fair elections. The West didn't conduct a Russian Presidential election in 2012 that was loaded with fraud and irregularity. The West didn't create a system of corruption around Putin that enriches a lucky few oligarchs and tarnishes Russia's economy and international reputation. The West certainly didn't focus on creating false enemies, both domestic and international, to distract from the real work of diversifying Russia's economy.

    Let me be clear. The West did not cause the protests in Ukraine, in the Kiev, Maidan Square. The protesters were Ukrainians fed up with endless corruption and political malfeasance. I met with several of those leaders in Ukraine, and I can assure everyone they were Ukrainian patriots, not Western proxies.

    While I have been giving the speech, my friend and colleague Senator McCain has come to the floor, with whom I visited Ukraine several months ago. He was there during the Maidan demonstrations and has firsthand knowledge of how this was a homegrown effort to bring real change to Ukraine. I am glad to see him on the floor at this moment.

    New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Friedman called what is happening in Ukraine under Putin ``the ugliest geopolitical mugging happening in the world today.'' Perhaps you have seen the recent excellent episode of the PBS ``Frontline'' documentary entitled ``Putin's Way.'' It meticulously laid out the web of corruption and destruction around Putin's rise to power. It showed how each contrived crisis at home has been used to consolidate Putin's grip on power, and it left little doubt the lengths Putin will go to to protect the web of corruption that is ensuring his future. What a waste.

    I commend the President for working with our European allies to impose severe economic sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine. These sanctions have some impact. In fact, Russia's credit rating is now reduced to junk bond status. But Putin and his proxies have only doubled down, launching new offensives in eastern Ukraine, leading to more death and human misery.

    I have concluded, and I believe the Senator reached a similar conclusion because of a letter we cowrote this week, that the United States has to do more to protect the Ukrainian people. I know it is a debating point with some of our European allies as to whether we are escalating the conflict. But to leave Ukraine poorly prepared to defend its own territory--to leave the civilians in Ukraine so open to the aggression of the Russian invaders--is [[Page S888]] wrong. We can provide lethal defensive weapons to help the Ukrainians defend their own homeland, their own country, from this Russian invasion. I think we should, and I encourage the administration to move forward. I have reached the conclusion we eventually have to deal with this bully with force. Force must be met with force. We must give the Ukrainian people the means to defend themselves and to build a modern democratic nation.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Arizona is recognized.


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