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- As Delivered -

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks at a full Committee hearing on United States policy toward Putin’s Russia:

“Thank you Mr. Chairman, and let me say I agree with the statement you just made. Thank you for calling this hearing.  You and I have long shared deep concerns about Russia’s aggression under Vladimir Putin, and I’m grateful that you’ve focused the Committee’s attention on this challenge.

“To all of our witnesses: welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee.  We’re grateful for your expertise and insight.

“Ambassador McFaul, let me say how particularly impressed I was with your service as our top diplomat in Moscow.  I know you were the target of all sorts of absurd accusations and harassment by Putin’s allies.  And I know that you were never afraid to push back against misinformation and stand your ground. And you’re exactly, exactly the kind of diplomat we need to meet 21st-century challenges.  So, so thank you for your service.  And the other witnesses: thank you as well for your service.

“I’ve come to view Putin’s Russia as a unique challenge on the global stage.  When we face crises around the world, we often ask ourselves, ‘What could we have done differently?’ or ‘What are the opportunities to defuse this situation?’  But with Putin, there may not be answers to those questions, because he’s playing by his own set of rules.

“Putin has ignored Russian law, cracking down on the human rights of Russia’s people and literally robbing future generations of their prosperity.  He has destroyed Russia’s standing in the world, walking away from the country’s international obligations and shoring up the brutal Assad regime in Syria.  And he has threatened the norms that have largely kept the peace in Europe since World War II, trampling on the sovereignty of Russia’s neighbors, testing the resolve of NATO, and working to undermine Western unity.

“I want to be careful not to conflate Putin and his corrupt leadership with the Russian people.  Russia is a great nation, but Putin is not Russia.  He is an unapologetic, authoritarian kleptocrat.  A grave threat to his own people and to stability and security across Europe and beyond.

“So how do we craft a policy to deal with such an unpredictable and irresponsible leader?  For now, the best approach seems to be one of geographical containment.  We cannot fix what’s ailing Russian society.  But we can try to keep it within Russia’s recognized borders. 

“This may be a great test for NATO’s role in the 21st century.  NATO, of course, has no ambition to chip away at Russia’s territory, but I’m confident that the Alliance will keep its Article 5 promise.  Putin uses lies and confusion to cast doubt on NATO’s ability. So I’m glad that NATO is ramping up its presence in Eastern Europe, sending a clear signal that the Alliance will not back down in the face of Putin’s aggression.  I believe, and I’ve said for a long time, that I think NATO is being tested and if we fail the test, I think it’s the end of the alliance.  We cannot fail the test.

“Aside from that, sanctions have given us mixed results.  As violence in Eastern Ukraine escalates again, it’s clear that sanctions haven’t done enough to thwart Putin’s ambitions.  But sanctions are better than nothing, and in the long term, I believe we have weakened Putin’s ability to project a destabilizing force beyond Russia’s borders.

“But we know Putin isn’t going anywhere.  So we’re left to ask, what else should we be doing?

“I recently introduced legislation that, in my view, would take us in the right direction.  My bill, the STAND for Ukraine Act, would tighten sanctions on Russia and reject any form of recognition of Russia’s rule over Crimea—in the same way we didn’t recognize Soviet occupation of the Baltic States during the Cold War.  It would also help to drive investment in Ukraine and push back against Russian propaganda and disinformation.

“There are other issues I have hope we can touch on today as well.  How do we help the Russian people hear a different point of view?  And the Chairman spoke about that in his opening statement.  After all, Putin’s apparent approval ratings have a lot to do with the fact that there’s simply no alternative.  How do we seize on the common ground we share with the citizens of Russia?  Even if the United States isn’t popular in Russia, we know that the country’s citizens are disgusted by corruption at every level of government.

“Now let me close by saying that we’re not focusing on Russia today because we want to pick a fight, breathe new life into old animosities, or drag the country down.  A failed Russia would spread damaging ripple effects around the world. 

“Rather, we hold out hope for the people of Russia.  We want to see them realize their democratic aspirations.  We want to see their country become a stable and prosperous European power and partner on the world stage.  Putin has strangled democracy in Russia.  We had such high hopes.

“But, I look forward to hearing our witnesses today and hear what they have to say.  And I thank them again for coming.  I yield back Mr. Chairman.”