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Policy Update: Growing Concern in Ukraine

If you are anything like me, Ukraine was not on your list of top U.S. foreign priorities before the events of 2014.  However, with Russia annexing Crimea while continuing to send troops and weapons to Ukrainian separatists, it’s become important to pay attention to Ukraine in the interest of our nation’s safety and security.  For these reasons, I decided to update you on the situation in Ukraine and the steps Congress is taking to aid the Ukrainian people in this week’s newsletter (which you can sign up to receive here).  

For the sake of review, Ukraine shares its eastern border with Russia and its western border with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania.  Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and since then, its history has been a tumultuous ride led by corrupt oligarchs attempting to toe the line between Russia and the western world.  

In November 2013, the Ukrainian government made a last-minute decision – due to Russian pressure – to not sign an Association Agreement with the European Union which would have better aligned the nation with its western neighbors.  This sparked anti-government protests throughout Ukraine and led to the Yanukovych government fleeing the country.  In response, on February 27, 2014, the Ukrainian parliament approved a new government, headed by Arseniy Yatsenyuk and no key figures from the former regime.  

The same day the new government was approved, Russian Federation military forces poured into Crimea seizing airports and other key installations.  On March 16, 2014, the Crimean authorities held a questionable referendum on Crimea’s annexation to Russia.  Two days later, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a “treaty” with Crimean leaders formally incorporating Crimea into Russia.  

Since this time, Ukrainian separatists, aided by the Russian military, have been waging a bloody war throughout Ukraine.  Although cease-fires have momentarily slowed down the fighting, the war continues and calls into question the future of the balance of power in Europe.  

In response, Congress has focused on providing assistance to the new Ukrainian government and supporting sanctions against Russia.  On April 3, 2014, President Obama signed H.R. 4152 and S. 2183 into law.  These bills authorized security assistance to Ukraine and required the President to impose visa bans and asset seizures against persons in Ukraine and Russia who are responsible for undermining the peace, security, stability, and sovereignty of Ukraine.  They also increase broadcasting in eastern Ukraine, Crimea, and Moldova to counteract Russian propaganda.  At this point our security assistance has focused on training and technical help, and we have not sent any defensive weaponry to Ukraine.  However, the military has rotated various units throughout Europe and on August 24, 2015, U.S. and allied paratroopers staged the largest airborne exercise in Europe since the end of the Cold War.  

Within the past year, I had the privilege of visiting Ukraine, as well as hear Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko address a Joint Session of Congress.  Through these experiences, I am convinced that the situation in Ukraine cannot be ignored.  Putin is currently testing what the world will allow, and I, along with many of my colleagues, believe the U.S. must work closely with NATO to formulate clear policy that will deter Russia from further aggression.  As your Representative, I will continue to fight for foreign policy that ensures a safe world for our children and grandchildren.