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Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine - Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Date: March 25, 2014
Location: Washington, DC


Madam President, I appreciate Senator Hoeven's work on the Ukraine issue. I know he went there recently, and I have also visited the great energy resources in his State as his guest and know they have a broad range of energy sources, as does Minnesota.

I rise to talk about the importance of the Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of the Ukraine Act, and I urge the Senate to act as quickly as possible to get it done.

As the past week has made clear, the crisis in Ukraine is not waiting for us. We witnessed Russia's blatantly illegal annexation of Crimea and its continued efforts to bully, intimidate, and weaken the new Ukrainian Government.

It is critical we immediately demonstrate to the world, one, our support for Ukraine as it charts a new democratic future for itself; two, our abhorrence of the Russian Government's actions that violate Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity; and three, our commitment to continue leading the world through a tough and determined response to the crisis.

This legislation, which was backed by our colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee on a strong bipartisan vote, accomplishes these important goals. It provides badly needed assistance to Ukraine to help its new government stand on its own two feet.

It also punishes those who contributed to the crisis by authorizing sanctions targeting Russia's officials, Crimea's self-appointed leaders, and the former leaders of Ukraine who lined their own pockets at their country's expense.

It is unfortunate we have not passed this bill already, given that the vast majority of our colleagues agree on the basic framework of how we should respond to events in Ukraine. I understand some of our colleagues may want to add something else to this bill, but almost everyone agrees we should provide assistance, including loan guarantees to the new Ukrainian Government and impose sanctions on Russian leaders and key institutions.

Now is the time for us to move forward. Together, the United States and our allies have taken important steps, such as barring Russia from the Group of Eight and imposing sanctions on key Russian officials. President Obama is in Europe this week working to convince our allies to take even stronger measures to help Ukraine and hold Russia accountable. We in the Senate must also act.

I think it is important to step back to reflect on how we arrived at this point. This is not a crisis the United States sought. The situation in Ukraine became a crisis because the former President of Ukraine and Russian leaders sought to keep the Ukrainian people from pursuing their right to determine their own future.

The Ukrainian people rose last November after their then-President turned his back on an association agreement with the European Union. This agreement would have helped bring Ukraine into the prosperous community of European nations while also compelling it to reduce corruption and enhance the rule of law. In short, it was a treaty that would have helped lift Ukraine to a better future with greater opportunity for its people.

When the former President abandoned that treaty, the people of Ukraine did not go quietly. They demonstrated courageously for months in the face of severe repression by the regime, including snipers shooting at civilians in the streets of Kiev. In the face of all odds, they succeeded in forcing the regime to the negotiating table.

The President fled the country, taking with him his ill-gotten wealth. It seemed the Ukrainian people would at least have the freedom they had worked so hard to achieve. The new government even signed--at long last--the association agreement with the European Union that the old regime had rejected.

Unfortunately, President Putin has long sought to keep Ukraine from charting its own course, first through economic manipulation and now through brutal force. When it became clear that the people of Ukraine would not be denied, President Putin carried out a military intervention to cut off Crimea and stage a sham referendum before illegally annexing the territory in a flagrant breach of international law and Russia's own past commitments to Ukraine's sovereignty.

Even though he claims Russia will seek no more territory from Ukraine, he continues to harass and undermine the new government by reneging on previous agreements to provide subsidies for gas and slowing deliveries, something my colleague from North Dakota has focused on. Russia's military continues to mass on Ukraine's borders.

I find it interesting that just a few months ago President Putin wrote a New York Times op-ed on the subject of international law and the use of force. He declared:

Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations charter and would constitute an act of aggression.

In President Putin's view, force must be approved by the U.N. Security Council or it is an act of aggression, except when it comes to Ukraine.

It should be clear by now that President Putin will use any means to advance his ends. He employs the language of ethnic nationalism while he tries to take apart Ukraine. His dissenters are sent to prison on trumped-up charges, children languish in state institutions as a result of the adoption ban, which is something we care so much about in Minnesota as one of the top States for adopting kids from Russia and across the world, and the Russian LGBT community lives under the constant threat of oppression.

All the people of Ukraine want is a simple freedom to seek a brighter future for their country, to not be a pawn to President Putin's efforts to resurrect the Soviet Union. The whole world sees that.

On March 15, 13 members of the U.N. Security Council voted for a resolution to condemn Russia for the very use of force that President Putin criticized last year. Only one country voted against it and that country was Russia.

Now the world is watching us. They are watching to see whether the Congress of the United States will act. We have talked a lot about Ukraine over the past several weeks. I was proud to cosponsor a bipartisan resolution, led by Senators DURBIN and COATS, that expressed support for Ukraine and criticized Russia's actions. That resolution passed unanimously 2 weeks ago. Now is the time to show we are actually doing something.

Ukrainians need to know that the United States stands with them, not just in the very important speeches on the Senate floor but also with real assistance and real action. President Putin needs to know we will not meekly return to business as usual and allow him to bully Ukraine with impunity.

Our allies and adversaries around the world need to know we will stand together to protect our vision of a world governed by democracy and law, where nations do not live under the threat of force by their neighbors.

This is one of those times where the impact of our votes will be felt far beyond the walls of this Chamber. In Ukraine they are going to be watching this vote. In Russia they are going to be watching this vote. All over Europe they are going to be watching this vote and in those countries from the former Soviet Union. The world is watching. So other people, other countries that may choose to engage in this illegal breach of international law, that may choose to tread on this illegal ground will be watching, and that is why this vote is so important.

I urge my colleagues, in the support of the people of Ukraine, to support this bill.