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Senator Menendez Remarks at CSIS Brzezinski Institute on Geostrategy

Washington, DC – Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Brzezinski Institute on Geostrategy discussion on “America’s Strategic Dilemma: A Revisionist Russia in a Complex World.”

“Thank you, CSIS for inviting me. It is a pleasure to share the stage with one of the most distinguished and accomplished foreign policy practitioners whose perspective on our strategic dilemma given Putin’s revisionist Russia will be enlightening. Dr. Brzezinski, I look forward to your perspective and our discussion.

“I think – without any doubt – we can all agree on one key point: The United States must lead. There are many experts – I’m sure many here – who would contend that the complexity of the geopolitics that led to the U.S.’s retreat from Europe created an opening for Putin. We know that we must work in close coordination with our European friends in order for the sanctions against Russia to work. But I do think that there is a greater role for strong American leadership.

“It has never been in our nature to simply observe. In my view, it is in our strategic interests to be an active participant in leading any effort to counter Russia, but I am concerned that our friends – particularly in Eastern Europe – question our resolve.

“We need to send a very clear global message: If you violate and upend the international order, there will be consequences. And we have to mean it when we say it. And we have back up our words with a menu of agreed-upon actions that will follow. There should be no ambiguity about either our resolve or what actions we would consider.

“The fact is – there are other actors in the world who are looking at what is happening in Ukraine and saying: “Well, what did the United States do, what did the West to stop Putin’s aggression?”

“At the end of the day, if the answer is: The West did not do enough, then other actors – those who may be more powerful than their neighbors – actors who may have nuclear weapons like North Korea – will have the space to think about what they might want to do. We cannot give them that space.

“Whether it’s China in the South China Sea that has territorial disputes with our allies, South Korea and Japan. Or the challenge we face with a nuclear armed North Korea. Or the challenge of Maduro in Venezuela oppressing his people. I could go through a long list of global actors who, in the absence of assured consequence for violating the international order, will be emboldened. That is an incredibly risky world to live in.

“That said – when it comes to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, the administration should fully implement measures in the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which the President signed into law on December 18th. The legislation passed – with unanimous consent – in both houses of Congress.

“It authorizes the President to provide much-needed military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. And it imposes additional sanctions against Russia. This legislation was necessary in December, and is even more necessary today. Implementing it is an important first step, but we also need to address the threat that Russia poses across Europe in a more comprehensive way.

“We need to reinvigorate the institutions that have for so long contributed to the transatlantic relationship and peace and stability.  We need to sharpen our arsenal of response options and that means NATO and EU integration, and adapting them to today’s realities and that will require streamlining the cumbersome bureaucratic procedures to bring nations into the western fold more quickly.

“We need to see TTIP in security terms as it will send a strong message to Putin that the U.S. and EU are unified. When it comes to energy, Europe will never be fully secure unless and until it has energy security.

“We need to do more to support efforts in Europe to increase reverse flow capacity from countries like Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary to Ukraine. Our friends in northern Europe and the Baltics need help in developing LNG infrastructure.

“Countries across the region, but particularly Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia are vulnerable to Russia’s eagerness to use energy as a weapon – and our allies in southern Europe also need the energy security provided by LNG infrastructure and pipelines.

“In my view, the attention on Europe’s east in confronting the threat from Russia has been necessary, but we also need to focus on the south – also vulnerable to undue Russian influence. We need to strengthen security and economic relationships in the Balkans, especially in Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Bosnia.

“To put it simply, the rules that have been in place since the end of the cold war no longer apply. We need to fundamentally recalibrate our approach to security in Europe and treat the entire region as under threat – not just Ukraine.

“In my view, we need to stop all force withdrawals from Europe and conduct a review of our force posture. The European Reassurance Initiative is a good first step and we cannot let up this momentum, and Congress must provide a long-term authorization for the Initiative. We should consider a robust military presence in the Baltics and other threatened states - let Putin know that it’s up to him how long we stay there.

“In the Baltics and Eastern Europe, we should not be thinking in terms of battalions – 500 or 600 soldiers – we should be thinking in terms of brigades – 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to security.

“There has been some positive movement in this direction. Colonel Michael Foster of the 173rd Airborne Brigade recently said that exercises between U.S. troops with Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, which began last April, will expand through the summer. Operation Atlantic Resolve will continue in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland with about 900 soldiers, and I understand that this effort could also expand into Hungary, the Czech Republic and Georgia which I would support.

“Our intelligence community also needs to reprioritize the Russian threat – not only addressing the immediate security threat in Ukraine, but across the board in Europe. I understand that the administration is working with the Broadcasting Board of Governors to commit $23.2 million to Russian-language programming, a 49 percent increase over FY14. The State Department has also requested more than $20 million in foreign assistance and public diplomacy funds to counter Russian propaganda through training for Russian-speaking journalists; support for civil society watchdogs and independent media; exchange programs; and access to fact-based news.

“The Russian investment in its propaganda machine still dwarfs what have dedicated to the task.  If we are serious about countering Russian propaganda we need to increase our investments in coordination with the Europeans who should also dedicate resources to these efforts.  

“There are also reports that the Russian government provides funding for political parties, NGOs and think tanks across Europe.  If this is indeed the case, we need a broader soft power strategy to counter this influence and we should work to leverage our State Department public diplomacy and USAID programming towards that end.

“When it comes to security assistance to Ukraine, we need to urgently increase both the economic and human costs to Putin with tougher sanctions and provide more assistance to the Ukrainian military. The international community simply cannot remain passive in the face of such unbridled aggression that will only invite further aggression.

“U.S. Army Europe Commander, Lt. General Ben Hodges said, in a recent speech in Berlin, that providing weapons to Ukraine would not immediately improve Ukraine’s defense capability, but it would provide the necessary muscle for a diplomatic solution. At a SASC hearing on March 4th, General Dempsey said: “I think we should absolutely consider providing lethal aid. And it ought to be in the context of our NATO allies because Putin's ultimate objective is to fracture NATO.”

“The simple fact is – we all want a diplomatic solution to this problem, but I believe that this can only come about when Putin believes that the cost of continuing to ravage Ukraine is simply too high. We have a responsibility to increase that cost.

“We are providing non-lethal equipment like night vision goggles is all-well-and-good, but giving the Ukrainians the ability to see the Russians coming, but not the weapons to respond, is not the answer. Night vision goggles are one thing, but let’s provide anti-tank and anti-armor weapons, crew weapons, and ammunition.

“Let’s provide counter-artillery radars, tactical troop-operated surveillance drones, and secure command-and-communications equipment. Frankly, I’m disappointed that the administration – required to report on its plan for increasing military assistance to Ukraine on February 15th has yet to do so. Congress is awaiting that report.

“In the meantime, Putin has used his military power to impose his will in Ukraine, but he is also using every economic tool at his disposal and we must do the same. It’s time to impose additional targeted sanctions on the Russian energy sector to add to existing sanctions that are already costing the Russian economy about $140 billion per year – or about 7 percent of its economy. The Administration should tighten restrictions on the development of shale deposits, Arctic drilling, and offshore drilling.

“The Ukraine Freedom Support Act called for the administration to impose sanctions on other defense industry targets as well as on special Russian crude oil projects by January 31st. And I am still waiting on the administration’s response.

“There are almost 150 individuals and entities on the EU and Canadian sanctions lists that are not on the U.S. lists. The Head of the Russian FSB, Mr. Bortnikov is the most egregious example.  The same Mr. Bortnikov who was in Washington recently for the CVE conference. 

“If there is no justifiable reason for excluding these individuals, then they should be added. Clearly, for the international sanctions effort to be effective, we need to be in lock step with our Canadian and European allies.

“These sanctions are necessary, but the most effective sanction is an economically viable and stable Ukraine. Working with our European friends, we need to do all we can to ensure that.

“On March 2, the Ukrainian parliament enacted the eight laws required by the International Monetary Fund. On Wednesday, the IMF Executive Board should approve the 4-year Extended Fund Facility which will offer Ukraine $40 billion of credits, of which $17.5 billion is to come from the IMF itself. This is a big step that will help greatly.

“The U.S. may provide an additional $1 billion in loan guarantees towards the end of this year, on top of the $2 billion in guarantees already provided. In my view, this is a worthy investment and it needs to be matched by continued reforms by the Ukrainians.

“We are seeing progress on that front – the right people are in place and the right laws are being passed. But, at the end of the day, what will matter most is implementation.

“In President Saakashvili’s testimony before a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee last week he said something worth repeating, and I quote: “It was not a NATO army that stopped the spread of Communism. It was a collection of strong ideals with an army standing behind it. The same must be true today. A democratic, secure Ukraine is the last nation between a revanchist Russia – and America.”

“He was right. We need to double down across  eastern Europe and the former Soviet space – on efforts to promote transparency, media freedom, and anti-corruption efforts. These fundamental democratic principles are what make us attractive.

“At the end of the day – as I said – all of us in this room can agree on one key point: The United States must lead. American leadership counts.

“That said, Dr. Brzezinski, you were absolutely right when you said: “In this increasingly complicated geopolitical environment, an America in pursuit of a new, timely strategic vision is crucial to helping the world avoid a dangerous slide into international turmoil.”

“Let us show the world that strategic vision and the kind of leadership we have always shown in the past.

“Thank you very much.”