Washington D.C. – Rep. Eliot L. Engel, the senior Democratic member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, gave the following statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s full committee hearing “U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Ukraine.”
“Deputy Assistant Secretary Rubin, Assistant Administrator Alexander, Deputy Assistant Secretary Singh, thank you for appearing before the Committee today, and for your tireless efforts over the past several months in support of Ukraine. And let me also thank Chairman Royce for calling this hearing on an issue which is at the forefront of all of our minds right now.
“Since 1991, the United States has strongly supported a democratic, prosperous, sovereign Ukraine. And in keeping with this commitment, we supported a peaceful, negotiated resolution of the recent crisis there, as hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens came out in the streets of Kyiv and throughout Ukraine to express their desire for a more democratic and just state.
“The recent selection of a new interim government signaled that Ukraine was back on the path toward stability and political and economic health. But instead of welcoming this event – as was the case in the U.S. and Europe – President Putin has reacted in a very different, and very disturbing, manner.
“Let me be clear. President Putin’s aggressive military actions in Crimea flagrantly violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They violate international law, and they violate Russia’s commitments to Ukraine. They are deeply destabilizing and have serious implications for security in Europe. All of us should be profoundly concerned by this.
“Furthermore, his justifications for this aggression are completely unsupported by the facts. There has been no persecution of Russians or Russian speakers in Ukraine. All credible observers agree on this point.
“This is a critical moment. The U.S., our European allies, and the international community must stand up for Ukraine’s unity and territorial integrity. Russia has deep historical and cultural ties with Ukraine and Russia and Ukraine should enjoy good and close relations. But President Putin must respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and the right of its people to freely make their own choices and chart their own future.
“Russia also must understand that there are consequences for its aggression. I think we should consider a range of sanctions –including visa bans, freezing assets, and banking sanctions – so that President Putin understands that this will not be business as usual. I call on our European allies and other members of the international community to take similar measures.
“I also support the Administration’s initiative to send international observers to monitor the situation in Crimea and other parts of Ukraine. Russia in turn should welcome such a mission, return its troops to their bases immediately, and comply with its commitments.
“Our other immediate priority should be to help Ukraine’s interim government deal with the formidable challenges that it faces. Secretary Kerry was just in Kyiv, and this was the right time to go and the right way to show our support.
“Given Ukraine’s dire economic situation, we and our European allies should be ready to provide a robust assistance package. I strongly support the Administration’s initiative to provide loan guarantees to Ukraine, and I’m very pleased that the House will pass legislation authorizing these guarantees later today. I also welcome the EU’s announcement that it also will provide very significant loans and credits. And of course we must also support Ukraine’s efforts to reach an agreement with the IMF, and implement reforms to address structural weaknesses.
“We also should provide additional assistance in areas of urgent need, such as to help Ukraine recover looted assets, combat corruption, conduct free and fair new elections, increase energy security, and counter politically motivated trade actions by Russia. With regard to this last point, I also believe we and the EU must steadfastly support other nations facing similar Russian pressure, such as Moldova and Georgia.
“As Ukraine’s leaders restore stability and order in the country, I urge them to reach out to all groups and regions, and to work together to build a tolerant, pluralistic society. The interim government, and any Ukrainian government, must protect the rights of all minority populations and make clear that it represents all Ukrainian citizens.
“Let me take this opportunity to say a word about anti-Semitism, which has been mentioned as another justification for Russian military aggression. I recognize that there is a concern, but as the respected NCSJ recently stated, ‘…while there have been isolated incidents in Crimea and eastern Ukraine since the protests began in November, there has not been a pattern of violence against the Ukrainian Jewish population.’
“Finally, let me once more thank our witnesses and the Administration for its tireless efforts over the past several months to support democracy in Ukraine. As the people of Ukraine confront the many challenges ahead, they should know that the United States will stand with them. We will support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we will support Ukrainians’ aspirations to build a more democratic, prosperous, and just future for their country.”