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Corker Opening Statement at Hearing on "U.S. Policy in Ukraine: Countering Russia and Driving Reform

United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Hearing: U.S. Policy In Ukraine: Countering Russia and Driving Reform

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Chairman
Opening Statement

I want to begin this hearing by expressing my condolences to the family of Boris Nemtsov and the people of Russia.

The murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov just outside the Kremlin appears to be an attempt to silence those in Russia who want to see their country move away from the authoritarianism, corruption, and lawlessness of today’s Russia.

Boris Nemtsov sought a better future for his people, and we must remain committed to his vision for a democratic Russia at peace with itself and its neighbors.

He was especially critical of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, where for over a year now Russia has continued its occupation of Crimea and destabilization of the country’s eastern regions.

Our country made a commitment in 1994 to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which has been under a near constant assault by Russia for more than a year. More recently, we lured Ukraine West by supporting their desire for closer association with Europe.

Now with Ukraine’s future in the balance, the refusal of the administration to step up with more robust support for Ukraine and further pressure on Russia is a blight on U.S. policy and 70 years of defending a Europe that is whole, democratic, and free.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine that was started by Russian-backed mercenaries and now directly involves thousands of Russian military personnel has resulted in over 6,000 deaths and generated 1.5 million refugees and internally displaced persons.

For roughly two weeks after the second Minsk ceasefire agreement was signed on February 12, the Russian-backed rebels continued their offensive activities, ultimately acquiring the strategic railway hub of Debaltsevo.

The determination of the rebels to secure Debaltsevo, despite the fact that the Minsk ceasefire agreement requires them to withdraw to a demarcation line established last September, shows that Putin has no intention of honoring the ceasefire.

While the violence has subsided since the rebels achieved their short-term objective and acquired Debaltsevo, the Minsk ceasefire is far from being a success.

In addition to the ambiguous constitutional and electoral conditions required of Ukraine to regain control of its borders, the second Minsk agreement is burdened by the failure of the first Minsk agreement as it stands.

In fact, administration officials have repeatedly referred to the most recent Minsk accord as an “implementation agreement” of the first Minsk accord.

But jumping from ceasefire to ceasefire in hope of convincing the Russian-backed rebels to fulfill the same commitments they continually renege on is not a strategy and it’s certainly not a strategy for success.

In my view, any strategy will not be effective unless the United States begins to provide Ukraine with the ability to inflict serious military costs using defensive weapons on the thousands of Russian troops operating in its eastern regions.

The Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which originated in this Committee, passed unanimously by Congress, and signed into law by the president, authorizes $350 million in lethal military assistance to Ukraine.

But yesterday we heard Germany’s ambassador to the United States say that President Obama privately pledged to Chancellor Merkel in February that the United States will not deliver lethal military assistance to Ukraine, despite the fact that he and other administration officials continue to tell the American public that they are seriously considering this policy.

Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken argued last week in Berlin that no amount of lethal military assistance for Ukraine would be sufficient to defeat the rebels and their Russian sponsors.

But our objective is not to provide Ukraine with enough weapons to overwhelm the Russian military in a direct confrontation.

Rather, the provision of lethal assistance aims to increase Ukraine’s defense capabilities in a way that will give Kyiv the ability to produce conditions on the ground favorable to a genuine peace process.

By equipping Ukraine with the means to impose a greater military cost on Russia, the United States will be contributing to a quicker, fairer, and more stable settlement of the conflict.

But our support for Ukraine must go beyond simply imposing costs on Russia.

Ukraine’s foreign currency reserves have diminished to a month’s worth of imports, the Ukrainian currency has lost 80 percent of its value since April 2014, and its economy continues to teeter on the brink of collapse.

At the same time, while I believe the government in Kyiv is genuinely committed to reform, more needs to be done by the Ukrainian authorities to move forward with these reforms, especially in the energy sector, where corruption siphons billions of dollars away from the budget each year.

Even if the United States does more to help Ukraine and Kyiv defeats the Russian-backed rebels, but the Ukrainian economy implodes in the process, we have failed and Putin has succeeded.  As a matter of fact, he has had an even greater success if that occurs.

This is why the United States must have a comprehensive strategy that will both counter Russian aggression but also drive political, economic, and anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine.

During this hearing, I hope to have a detailed discussion that explores the situation in eastern Ukraine since the Minsk ceasefire agreement was signed, examines why the United States has failed to provide Ukraine with lethal military assistance, and considers additional ways to support Ukraine with its ongoing economic challenges.