WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today delivered the following statement at the Committee’s hearing on the current crisis in Ukraine:
“Thank you, Chairman Royce, for calling this hearing. The situation in Ukraine is one of the most urgent issues for American foreign policy.
“Madam Assistant Secretary, and Mr. Assistant Secretary, thank you both for appearing before the Committee today. And thank you for your hard work in support of Ukraine.
“I also want to acknowledge the presence here this morning of Ukrainian Ambassador Motsyk, who’s in the audience. Welcome, Mr. Ambassador.
“Right now, Ukrainian troops are battling separatists in eastern Ukraine. The people of Odesa—the vibrant, multicultural birthplace of one of my grandparents—are mourning those killed last weekend. Tensions are high, and there is a danger of further escalation in certain parts of the country. I want to express my condolences to the families of those who were killed.
“It’s clear that President Putin is responsible for this crisis. He has trampled on Ukraine’s sovereignty. He has illegally seized Crimea—the first annexation in Europe since the end of World War II. He has tried to instigate separatism and destabilize the country. And he has massed his troops on Ukraine’s border; promoted discord and conflict; and set individuals, families, and peoples against one another.
“Meanwhile, the people of Ukraine are trying to chart a new course for their country’s future. The interim government in Kyiv has done all it can to maintain stability, and the presidential elections scheduled for May 25th give Ukraine a path forward for a democratic return to political and economic health.
“Chairman Royce and I, along with several other colleagues on this committee, recently visited Kyiv. We heard the same thing over and over again: Ukrainians do not want Russian interference, and they resent Russian attempts to tear their country apart. The people of Ukraine are looking to us and our allies to ensure Putin’s attempts to weaken their country do not succeed.
“The reality hit home for me when we visited a synagogue in eastern Ukraine. Two older men approached me to talk about the crisis. They had seen it all. They fought against Hitler’s army in World War II to stop the spread of tyranny, only to find themselves living under the yoke of Soviet dictatorship for the next half century. They saw the Wall crumble and felt the breeze of freedom and democracy blow across Eastern Europe. And there, wearing the medals they had earned on the Ukrainian Front, they were looking toward the east and seeing an all too familiar threat on the horizon. ‘Don’t abandon us,’ one of them said.
“Like so many others, those men want Ukraine to thrive in peace and prosperity. We need to have their backs. So President Putin must understand that his actions have consequences. The White House did right by imposing targeted sanctions against individuals and companies associated with Putin and, yesterday, withdrawing Russia as a GSP beneficiary. But if Russia continues to threaten and destabilize Ukraine, we need to ratchet up the pressure further. We need stronger sanctions. I also call on our European partners and others around the world to work with us in imposing sanctions.
“But sanctions will only be effective if they are part of a broader strategy on Ukraine and Russia.
“First, the best answer to Russian aggression is for Ukraine to become a fully democratic, prosperous state. Wouldn’t it be nice if Putin’s aggression accelerated the process of democratization of Ukraine, and made Ukraine look westward rather than eastward? That’s why I support robust international assistance, including from the U.S. and EU, and centered on the IMF agreement, to address Ukraine’s immediate economic crisis. Next: serious reform efforts. We should help Ukraine address structural economic weaknesses, combat corruption, secure its borders, rebuild its military, strengthen rule of law, and increase its energy security.
“Secondly, to answer future threats from Russia, we need to focus on the role of a 21st-century NATO. Even as NATO addresses challenges around the world, the alliance has to remain the guarantor of peace and security in Europe. NATO allies, especially those on the eastern side of the Alliance, must be confident that Article V guarantees remain in force. NATO needs to ramp up cooperative activities in Central Europe. We need to take a hard look at NATO’s force posture and defensive assets in the region.
“And most importantly, all 28 NATO allies need to live up to their responsibilities. Right now, only four countries devote at least two percent of their budgets to defense, as they have committed to do by being a member of NATO. If we increase NATO defense spending while joining in a coordinated embargo on all arms sales to Russia—including halting the sale of two French-built Mistral amphibious ships—it will send a clear message to Putin that he will not be allowed to trample on the rights of his neighbors. On that note, I think the U.S. and our allies should work with Paris to find a way for NATO to purchase or lease these advanced warships to expand our capabilities while preventing their delivery to Moscow.
“Third, in addition to helping Ukraine increase its energy security, we must urgently work with our European allies and others to reduce Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.
“And finally, we need to help ensure that the May 25th elections in Ukraine are safe, free, and fair, and reflect the will of the people of Ukraine. We hope that Ukraine’s new president will begin the process of reconciliation by making clear that he or she represents all Ukrainians, regardless of their regional, ethnic, or religious identity. Ukrainians need to work together to build a tolerant, pluralistic society. The new Ukrainian government must be truly inclusive, support minority rights, and condemn all forms of intolerance. As I heard repeatedly while in Ukraine, there is strong support for constitutional reforms and decentralization to give greater powers to regional and municipal authorities.
“I want to emphasize that Ukraine’s future is for Ukrainians alone to decide. At the same time, a lasting solution ensuring the stability of Ukraine requires Russia’s cooperation. So we must continue to talk with Russia and facilitate direct talks between Moscow and Kyiv, including through international and regional fora such as the UN and OSCE.
“I’d like to close by again thanking our witnesses and the Administration for all the work over the past several months to support democracy in Ukraine. This is a very difficult time for Ukraine, and it is important that its people know that they have a friend in the United States. We support their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And we support the aspirations of Ukrainians to build a better future for their country.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
Watch Rep. Engel's Opening Statement Here