WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at a hearing of the full committee on the crisis in Ukraine:
“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for calling this very timely and important hearing.
“At the outset I want to acknowledge the Ukrainian Days participants, who are in the audience today.
“And Ambassador Nuland, welcome back. We thank you for testifying today. We thank you for your decades of service. And on a personal basis, let me also say that I’ve had the pleasure of working with you and I am a fan of your hard work, knowledge, and tenacity. Thank you for all you do.
“In Ukraine, the events of the past year and the ongoing Russian aggression threatens the security and stability of the entire region, and undermines decades of American commitment to and investment in a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace. In fact, this is a threat to the whole international order.
“So today we face grave questions. What can and should be done? And who should contribute to solving this problem?
“The United States is providing substantial assistance to the Government of Ukraine, including billions of dollars in loan guarantees and non-lethal military aid. We have also imposed significant sanctions on Russia. We’ve sanctioned officials supporting Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and targeted key sectors of the Russian economy. And we’ve seen results. Russia's economy has been taking on water, and this has only been magnified by the recent dip in oil prices.
“These policies are good, but only up to a point. They don’t go far enough, in my opinion. Russia’s military gains in Ukraine have slowed, but Putin continues to grab land along the line of contact in violation of the Minsk ceasefire agreement, which mandates that Russian-supported rebels pull back their forces. The government in Kyiv is committed to reform, but leaders there struggle every day to preserve Ukrainian sovereignty. And while our financial assistance has kept Ukraine's economy afloat, they still confront a bleak economic outlook and the risks of a financial meltdown loom large.
“Now, when Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal in 1994, the United States made a commitment to help protect Ukrainian territorial integrity. That commitment was also made by Russia, U.K., China other countries as well. But now our commitment is being tested.
“Let me also say that I think NATO made a grave mistake in 2008 when it refused to admit Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. I know that Germany and France resisted. The United States tried to push it. It didn’t work. And I think we’re paying the price today. I don’t think that Putin would have been as aggressive if Ukraine was a part of NATO.
“So last month, I met with President Poroshenko. Met with him in Europe. His request was simple: provide Ukraine with key weapons and military technology to defend itself. Specifically, Ukraine needs light anti-tank missiles to protect itself against rebels attacking with heavy, Russian-supplied armor, not to evict the thousands of Russian troops inside Ukrainian borders. Ukraine needs longer-range counter-battery radars to pinpoint attacking artillery and tanks, not to win a protracted war against Russia’s military. And Ukraine needs better communications technology to deal with Russian efforts to jam their signals, not to advance on Moscow.
“You know, I was laughing when the—at that conference in Munich, Madam Secretary, you and I both attended, to hear the Russian Foreign Minister denying that Russian troops were in Ukraine, saying it was just Ukrainian rebels. Lies lies and more lies.
“I’ve spoken on the House floor calling on our government to supply defensive weapons to Ukraine.
“So Mr. Chairman, and I know you agree with me, Ukraine is not going to win a war against Russia, but it can impose a greater cost on Vladimir Putin’s aggression and slow Russia’s advances. And it has a chance to remain on its feet when all is said and done if it can impose a greater cost on Putin’s aggression and slow Russia’s advances.
“Yet for nearly a year, the Administration, along with the vast majority of our European allies, has resisted providing such assistance. Now to be sure, there are risks involved. But there are also risks in allowing Putin to continue his aggression in Ukraine and to threaten other peaceful neighbors on Russia’s periphery. And if Russia’s aggressive pressure on the West reach the frontiers of our NATO allies, the dangers to Europe increase tremendously. The dangers to the NATO alliance increase tremendously.
“In December, Congress unanimously passed the Ukraine Freedom Support Act. This legislation authorized the provision of lethal defensive aid. I was proud to lead House efforts to pass this legislation and happy that President Obama signed it. But I have been disappointed that the Administration has not used any of the tools provided in this law.
“It’s time to ask the hard question: are we willing to stand up to Vladimir Putin’s aggression before he kills more people, does more economic damage, further destabilizes Europe, and threatens our NATO allies? Or are the risks just so great that we will simply cut our losses? As time passes, our options grow fewer and less effective.
“That’s why I’m announcing today my plan to introduce new legislation. It will offer Ukraine greater assistance on a variety of fronts. It will dial up the pressure on Vladimir Putin for his reckless, destructive, and destabilizing policies. And it will send a clear message that the United States stands with the people of Ukraine against Russian aggression. I look forward to working with Chairman Royce and other colleagues as we move ahead with this effort.
“And finally, let me just add that our European allies need to confront these same questions of strategy and political will. In my view, wealthy countries such as Germany, France, and others have a lot more skin in the game economically and strategically. They should be doing more to assist Ukraine on the economic front as they seem even less willing than we are to provide needed military assistance. They should double down, dig deep, and ensure Ukraine does not endure a financial meltdown. This would be a win-win: keeping Ukraine solvent and preventing an even greater catastrophe on the EU’s borders.
“The people of Ukraine are watching. The government in Kyiv is watching. And the whole world is watching. We cannot sit idly by and allow Putin to continue his aggression.
“So again, Ambassador Nuland, thank you for appearing here today, and I look forward to your testimony.”
Watch Rep. Engel's opening statement here