Robert Menendez: Russia’s aggressive behavior can’t go unchecked

March 11

Robert Menendez, a Democrat, represents New Jersey in the Senate, where he chairs the Foreign Relations Committee.

The Russian invasion and occupation of parts of Ukraine is the most recent example in a series of events involving disruptive Russian behavior throughout the world.

In Syria, Russian President Vladi­mir Putin is actively propping up President Bashar al-Assad and perpetuating the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

In Iran, the ink of the Joint Plan of Action signed in Geneva was barely dry when reports surfaced that Tehran and Moscow were negotiating an oil-for-goods swap worth $1.5 billion a month and planned to build a new nuclear plant.

In our own hemisphere, a Russian spy ship paid an unannounced visit to Havana Bay, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoiguannounced plans to expand Russia’s military footprint abroad in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Today, our concern is for Ukraine. Tomorrow, it could be for Georgia again or perhaps Moldova, two nations waiting to finalize their association agreements with the European Union, a process Ukraine had been engaged in to the displeasure of the Russian government.

Putin has miscalculated by starting a game of Russian roulette with the international community, but we refuse to blink, and we will never accept this violation of international law.

The unity of purpose displayed at the U.N. Security Council, by the European Union and the Group of Seven nations in support of Ukrainian autonomy and in opposition to Russian authoritarianism demonstrates the world’s outrage and will serve as a call to action.

Our policies toward Russia require urgent reexamination. Congress has a particular role to play. Legislation I’m offering includes the following components:

●It provides for loan guarantees for Ukraine, consistent with the $1 billion announced by the Obama administration in recent days and mirroring just-passed House legislation.

●It directs the Obama administration to assist the Ukrainian government in identifying, securing and recovering assets linked to acts of corruption by former prime minister Viktor Yanu­kovych, members of his family or other former or current Ukrainian government officials.

●It authorizes $50 million for democracy, governance and civil society assistance and $100 million for enhanced security cooperation for Ukraine and other states in Central and Eastern Europe.

●It provides for additional sanctions, complementing the president’s executive order, against Ukrainians and Russians alike responsible for violence and serious human rights abuses against anti-government protesters and those responsible for undermining the peace, security, stability, sovereignty or territorial integrity of Ukraine.

●It imposes sanctions on Russians complicit in or responsible for significant corruption in Ukraine.

●It includes needed reforms to the United States’ participation in the International Monetary Fund, which would allow Washington to leverage significant support from the IMF for Ukraine today and for similar crises in the future.

Russian actions at home and abroad must be viewed in a broader context, not as isolated incidents but as connected events in a troubling pattern of behavior that cannot continue unchecked.

Ukrainian sovereignty cannot be violated for looking westward and embracing ideals rooted in freedom.

In Ukraine and the surrounding region, the United States has spent millions of dollars promoting democracy and good governance. These are ideals we must always promote and on which we will never compromise.

Less than six months ago, in an op-ed about the unfolding disaster in Syria, Putin admonished his American audience: “We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.”

The Ukrainian people and the international community expect Putin to heed his own advice.

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