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Corker: U.S. Leadership at the Right Moment in Ukraine Could Have Been Decisive

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, made the following statement at a hearing to consider the implications of the crisis in Ukraine for U.S. foreign policy in the region.

“I think that the importance of Ukraine is not entirely appreciated. With the exception of Russia, Ukraine is the largest country in Europe, with a population of 46 million people, and vast, unrealized potential. And while Ukraine is critically important in its own right, what’s often missed is that positive change in Ukraine would help stimulate positive change in Russia,” said Corker.

“In my view, what has transpired in Ukraine is one of the most recent examples of where U.S. leadership at the right moment could have been decisive.

“I recognize that the history of this is complex, and there were mitigating factors and forces involved that even in the best of time we have little influence over. We should acknowledge that the Europeans did not want us deeply involved, fearing U.S. involvement would risk provoking Russia and framing the decision as a part of a geopolitical struggle. 

“The Ukrainian government, for its part, seemed to be playing the sides against each other – asking for unrealistic terms from the IMF that ignored the country’s need for reform.  Ukraine’s leadership failed to meet the EU’s conditions for an Association Agreement, and instead opted for a $15 billion loan and natural gas discount from Russia.

“This decision to place the interests of Ukraine’s political elites above the country’s wellbeing has been rejected by a majority of Ukrainians, which is substantiated by the massive protests held since November.

“But none of this accounts for why U.S. policy toward Ukraine was weak when it needed to be decisive and forceful. Critics have accused the administration of bumbling or incompetence as the reason for the absence of assertiveness and leadership on our part. But I don’t think that’s the case.  The lack of U.S. leadership appears to be intentional – an example of troubling, recent tendencies of the administration’s policies in places where our interests are being challenged.

“Apparently overly concerned with offending Russia, the administration seems to have somehow made the calculation initially that a passive response might yield more than assertive U.S. leadership. I think it’s important to ask now, with Russia gaining at our expense in Syria, Iran, on missile defense, Edward Snowden, and now Ukraine, whether that was the right approach. 

“When President Yanukovych saw we did not come out clearly and forcefully when Russia all but boycotted Ukrainian goods and threatened them, he probably reached the same conclusion that many of our friends in tough neighborhoods have made: we are not a partner that they can count on in tough times.

“Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that our risk-averse policy precluded the very real opportunity to seek change in Russia through Ukraine – not by making Ukraine a concession to the Kremlin, but by making Ukraine an example. The repercussions in Russia of a free and prosperous Ukraine integrated with Europe would be enormous.   This might not be in Putin’s personal interest, but it is certainly in the interest of the Russian people.

“Fortunately, I think that the administration has now begun to assert our interests and those of the Ukrainian people, but like in other places, they got there only in reaction to events well after they begin to play out unfavorably.

“Ukraine is not a zero-sum game between Russia and the West.  The popular sentiment in Ukraine is in favor of moving toward Europe, and I hope that effort will ultimately prevail. But we have to determine how best to aid and hasten that move.”

For complete witness testimony and footage of the hearing, visit: