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The Senate’s Bipartisan Ukraine Mistake

Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Last Tuesday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held yet another hearing on Russia and Ukraine. The testimony of two of the witnesses before the committee, the State Department’s Victoria Nuland and the Defense Department’s Evelyn Farkas should be of genuine interest to anyone concerned about the course of action the U.S. is intent on taking in the region.

Ms. Nuland’s testimony was notable for her prediction that Russian citizens will one day ask with regard to their country’s incursion into Ukraine:

What have we really achieved? Instead of funding schools, hospitals, science, and prosperity at home in Russia, we have squandered our national wealth on adventurism, interventionism, and the ambitions of a leader who cares more about empire then his own citizens.

Well, whatever the Russian people think of Putin’s adventurism—and if recent poll numbers are anything to go by, they think pretty well of it—it’s the American people who are sorely tired of American adventures abroad.

Notable too were her comments on the May 2nd massacre in Odessa, which she described as “the death of more than 40 following an afternoon of violent clashes reportedly instigated by pro-Russian separatists…” This is too cute by half. The 46 people who were burned alive were pro-Russian demonstrators who barricaded themselves inside the second story of the trade union building in Odessa to escape the predations of a crowd of Right Sector militants.

Consider the following account of the massacre in the New York Times:

As the building burned, Ukrainian activists sang the Ukrainian national anthem, witnesses on both sides said. They also hurled a new taunt: “Colorado” for the Colorado potato beetle, striped red and black like the pro-Russian ribbons. Those outside chanted “burn Colorado, burn,” witnesses said. Swastikalike symbols were spray painted on the building, along with graffiti reading “Galician SS,” though it was unclear when it had appeared, or who had painted it.

To this our UN Ambassador Samantha Power tweeted: “Fact that #Ukraine has taken steps to try to restore order and take back territory from separatists is what any nation would do.” This is interesting not so much for the moral obtuseness on display as for the hypocrisy. Recall that only two months ago, when former Ukrainian president Yanukovych attempted to “restore order” on the Maidan, he was told by Vice President Biden to pull back his security forces “immediately.”

While Nuland’s testimony was an overlong exercise in dissembling, Dr. Farkas’s was pretty informative. Through her testimony we were assured that the administration’s aim is to “provide reassurance and support without taking actions that would escalate the military crisis.” And with that out of the way we learned:

  • The United States has pledged funding for a $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine and for $50 million for new programs to address “emerging needs” (which was left undefined)
  • The DoD is providing 330,000 Meals-Ready-to-Eat, as well as uniforms, individual equipment, handheld radios, and Explosive Ordinance Disposal robots to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense
  • So far $18 million worth of security assistance has been provided to the Ukrainian armed forces and border guards
  • On April 1 DoD held bilateral defense consultations in Kiev at which mid-term and long-term objectives for defense cooperation was discussed
  • In order to “assure” our NATO allies, DoD is conducting a build-up of military assets in Eastern Europe and on the frontiers of the former Soviet space: the U.S.S Donald Cook, the U.S.S Taylor, and U.S.S. Truxtun are now situated in the Black Sea
  • The NATO Baltic Air Policing mission has been augmented by six additional F-15s and 12 F-16s; 600 paratroopers are now taking part in exercises in Poland and the Baltics.
  • 22 U.S. European Command and NATO exercises are planned to take place between April and June
  • $10 million has been approved by DoD to send to Moldova to help secure its borders
  • Discussions with the Republic of Georgia are likewise underway

Left unaddressed: will all this support for the Ukrainian military and the states bordering Russia make it more or less likely that Russia will cease its provocations in the Ukrainian East and South?

In the Q&A that followed, not one senator mentioned the massacre in Odessa. Sens. Boxer and Cardin did however express their sympathy for the missing Nigerian girls. All stressed the need for tougher sanctions on Russia and more “nonlethal tactical assistance” to the Ukrainian government. Some, like John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), complained the administration wasn’t doing nearly enough.

Yet overall the hearing was a show of bipartisanship in the very worst sense; not one senator present dissented from the prevailing view that a) the Russians are the primary cause for the crisis in Ukraine and b) Ukraine represents a core U.S. national security interest. As the violence continues to spiral out of control ahead of the May 25th elections, the Congress and the administration find themselves, for once, in complete and serene agreement that the policy of material support for the regime in Kiev, and of ever-tighter encirclement of Russia, is indeed the right one. Let’s hope they are right.

James Carden is a TAC contributing editor and served as an advisor to the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission at the State Department from 2011-2012.

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