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Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on Countering Russian Aggression

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on countering Russian aggression: Ukraine and beyond. The witnesses included The Honorable Victoria Nuland, under secretary of State for political affairs, The Honorable Erin McKee, assistant administrator for Europe and Eurasia at the United States Agency for International Development, and The Honorable Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs at the Department of Defense.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

“First of all, let me say I concur with remarks that you've made and I'm going to make some similar remarks along those lines. I look forward to having a concrete discussion on the Biden Administration's policy toward Russia. I hope to hear from you how the United States is planning to do more and faster to help defeat Russia in Ukraine and counter Russian aggression and malign influence around the world.

“Indeed, we aren’t the only ones that are hungry for this. I think if you look around this room and see the attendance today and see the gaggle of media people out in the hall shouting questions at us – everyone is hungry for this discussion, and I hope we have a robust discussion on that today.

“It’s been almost a year ago now since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine turned the status quo of international relations on its head. In response to this bold escalation, the United States and our allies around the world quickly came to a consensus that we needed to support Ukraine’s defense of its people, territory, and way of life from Russian aggression.

“Whenever we have a discussion like this, it really ought to start with a very short and brief discussion of how we got here. We all know that Ronald Reagan spent eight years in his presidency with his top priority being bringing down and breaking up the Soviet Union and pulling those satellite countries away from Russia. He was successful. He got that done. And we as America adopted that as our policy. We promoted it. We helped it in every way we could. One of the things that happened, of course, was that all the countries that were in the orbit of the USSR pulled away and went their own way. That break up included four countries that had nuclear weapons at the time. One was Russia of course, one was Kazakhstan, one was Belarus, and one was Ukraine.

“Obviously, it's also the policy of the United States to contain nuclear weapons and be against proliferation wherever possible. On December 5th, 1995, the United States sat down in Budapest, Hungary, with the Ukrainians, with the Brits at table, and the Russians at the table, and entered into an agreement, whereby they asked the Ukrainians to give up their weapons in return for which Ukraine would get security for their borders and against an invasion by any country. All four of us signed that. The Ukrainians did what they agreed to do. They gave up their nuclear weapons. And where do they find themselves today? Facing an invasion by one of the countries that actually signed that agreement. We have not only a moral obligation, but a legal obligation to do what we said we’d do on December 5th, 1995. And we’re doing that.

“Over the past year, extensive discussions have taken place about how the U.S. and our allies can support Ukraine. That is the topic of about every conversation you enter into here in D.C. However, these discussions get bogged down by fears of giving Ukraine too much equipment, too quickly for fear of upsetting Moscow. I’m tired of hearing that.

“Everyone talks about the need to hand Russia a strategic defeat in Ukraine, but the administration’s policies stop short of fully supporting that goal.

“What is missing is a more robust discussion about U.S. policy toward Russia now, and just as importantly, beyond the current conflict. Any notion that we can interact with Russia like we did a year ago was shattered by the invasion, but also by Russia’s non-compliance with the New START Treaty and many other malign actions around the world. It has not only soured its relationship with us, it has soured its relationship with virtually the rest of the planet – with the exception of half a dozen counties that are in league with them.

“I expect our witnesses to help us better understand the administration’s plans to confront all of Russia’s malign influence. It is critical that U.S. foreign policy be informed by a long-term vision for a future where Russia coexists with its neighbors and does not threaten to destabilize the international community.

“Unfortunately, the Biden Administration has so far not made clear a concrete policy for how the United States will directly confront Russia as a strategic adversary. While Putin has irreversibly tied the fate of his regime to the outcome of the war in Ukraine, there is so much more to confronting Russia that the United States must consider.

“It is essential that the Biden Administration’s Russia policy be characterized by leadership and initiative. I hope your testimonies and responses will be given with a focus on that overarching Russia policy today.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on