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Chairman Menendez’s Opening Remarks at Hearing on Ukraine – Countering Russian Intervention and Supporting a Democratic State

Washington, DC – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the below statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s hearing: “Ukraine – Countering Russian Intervention and Supporting a Democratic State.” The remarks follow:

“Let me welcome today’s panelists from State, Defense, Treasury, Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, and Freedom House who can provide a wide range of perspectives to help us assess Putin’s actions in Ukraine.

“Before we talk about Russia, I want to note my grave concern about the cowardly and heinous kidnapping of some 276 young Nigerian women from their school and claims by Boko Haram’s leader that many of the over 200 who remain missing are being trafficked to neighboring states and sold into child marriage.  As a father, I am heartsick for these brave young women and their families. I look forward to the passage later today of a resolution authored by Senators Landrieu and Boxer condemning Boko Haram and this terrible act.   

“Boko Haram is a brutal organization that is waging an escalating campaign of terror and war against its own people to tragic ends; violence they have fomented has contributed to an estimated 1,500 deaths in Nigeria this year alone. And just today we have new reports that Boko Haram may have kidnapped an additional eight girls from their village homes in northeastern Nigeria.

“Later today, I’ll also be sending a letter to the President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, pressing him to lead the effort to find the young women and hold the captors accountable.  I urge him to work closely with the United States and international partners in this effort and welcome the offer today by Secretary Kerry to provide a coordination cell that will include U.S. military personnel and law enforcement officials with expertise in investigations and hostage negotiations.

“The situation in Ukraine is untenable and there is no question that Russia, and President Putin himself, is supporting and instigating the conflicts that developed in southern and eastern Ukraine in the last days. 

“Foreign Minister Lavrov’s ruling out of additional talks today makes clear that Russia has no interest in resolving the crisis and necessarily leads us to conclude that the goal is to destabilize the country and potentially pursue further territorial ambitions.

“Our resolve, however, is also clear.  Putin’s actions will not stand and will not go unchallenged. These actions are an inexcusable breach of international law and a deeply aggressive gesture that sets a troubling precedent.

“Putin’s tactics aren’t just about changing facts on the ground by sending in armed men to grab land; He’s also launched a massive propaganda effort to distort the facts of this situation.

“In my view, President Obama’s decision to impose sanctions and send hundreds of U.S. troops to our easternmost NATO allies was the right response.

“There are several additional steps we could take.

“First, I believe enhancements should be made to NATO’s defense posture.  NATO and the United States need to take seriously the possibility Russia will take aggressive actions beyond those it has already undertaken in Georgia and Ukraine. NATO should begin preparation to station forces in Central and Eastern Europe.

“Second, we should consider additional, targeted sanctions. I’m not shy when it comes to sanctions; I believe they can be an effective tool of peaceful diplomacy, whether against Iran or Russian oligarchs who have made Moscow the home of more billionaires than anywhere else in the world.

“I would like to see additional targeted, narrow sanctions, including on Rosneft itself and Gazprom whose actions are causing economic havoc in Ukraine by manipulating prices and supply.

“We could also pursue other individuals in Putin’s inner circle and the weapons exporter Rosoboron exports, which continues to send weapons to Assad.

“In my view, the next step could be sanctions as outlined by the Administration on Russia's financial, energy, and defense sectors.

“Third, we need to examine further steps we can take to assistance Ukraine at this critical juncture, including the provision of military assistance and equipment, body armor, as well as training and security assistance for Ukrainian forces.

“Now, I have to add I am disappointed by efforts to draw partisan lines around this issue.  This Committee very successfully reported legislation, just weeks ago, supporting Ukraine and imposing sanctions.  If additional legislation is needed, I would hope that we’d work together to make that happen, rather than make this an election-year issue, which tends to work against productivity. In that vein, I was particularly concerned by language in a bill would tie implementation of the New START treaty, and more broadly the U.S.-Russian strategic nuclear balance, to the crisis in the Ukraine.

“In my view, this would dangerously imply that the United States sees our strategic nuclear forces as a way to pressure Russia into withdrawal of its forces.

“Now, I hope today we can get the perspective of our panelists on where Putin’s actions could lead, and what our options are.

“I hope we can send a strong, clear bipartisan message to Putin that his repugnant behavior in Ukraine cannot stand.

“With that, let me turn to Senator Corker for his opening remarks.”