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Corker Seeks Obama Administration Report on Lethal Aid for Ukraine

Press release from U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; March 9, 2015:

WASHINGTON – In a letter to President Barack Obama today, U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked the administration to submit a report to Congress on plans for providing defensive lethal assistance to Ukraine. The report, required by law under the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, was due on February 15.

“We write to ask that you immediately submit to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a report on the provision of lethal military assistance to Ukraine as required by the Ukraine Freedom Support Act,” wrote Corker and Menendez in their letter to the president. “Now is the time for the United States to provide Ukraine with the means to defend itself from continued Russian aggression. We should not be misled by Vladimir Putin’s repeated efforts to exploit nominal ceasefire agreements.”

Corker and Menendez also noted the purpose of providing defensive weapons is to raise the cost for Russia’s hostile involvement in Ukraine and to create the conditions for a valid diplomatic resolution that guarantees Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“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. After countless broken promises by the Kremlin, it is clear that Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine can only be stopped if Putin realizes that the United States and Europe are unequivocally committed to helping Kyiv impose this military cost on Russia,” Corker and Menenedez said in the letter.

The Ukraine Freedom Support Act, coauthored by Corker and Menendez, passed Congress with unanimous support and was signed into law in December. In addition to authorizing defensive lethal military and non-military assistance for Ukraine, the law imposes additional sanctions against Russia; provides Ukraine with energy, defense sector, and civil society assistance; and expands broadcasting programs to counter Russian propaganda in countries of the former Soviet Union.

Full text of the senators’ letter is included below and online here. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on U.S. policy in Ukraine tomorrow, Tuesday, March 10, at 10:00 a.m. ET. Details on the hearing are available here.

Dear President Obama,

We write to ask that you immediately submit to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a report on the provision of lethal military assistance to Ukraine as required by the Ukraine Freedom Support Act. The February 15,2015, deadline found in the law, which was unanimously passed by Congress in December 2014 and subsequently signed into law, has now passed. The provision of lethal assistance attracts broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and House. We urge you to submit this report to Congress as soon as possible.

Now is the time for the United States to provide Ukraine with the means to defend itself from continued Russian aggression. We should not be misled by Vladimir Putin’s repeated efforts to exploit nominal ceasefire agreements. As Ukraine negotiated the second Minsk ceasefire in good faith, Putin sent dozens of tanks, armored vehicles, and rocket launchers to the Russian backed rebels in eastern Ukraine mere hours before he consented to the supposed ceasefire. Since the agreement was signed on February 12, 2015, the rebels have retaken the strategic railway hub of Debaltseve, launched offensives near Mariupol, and reportedly organized terrorist attacks in the city of Kharkiv, which threatens to spread the conflict beyond the current area of hostilities.

We often hear that no amount of lethal military assistance to 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. After countless broken promises by the Kremlin, it is clear that Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine can only be stopped if Putin realizes that the United States and Europe are unequivocally committed to helping Kyiv impose this military cost on Russia.

We respectfully urge you to fulfill the provisions of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, recognize the strong bipartisan majority in Congress that favors U.S. lethal assistance to Ukraine, and move quickly to provide the Ukrainian government with the capabilities that will allow Kyiv to inflict serious military costs using defensive weapons against the Russian forces that are destabilizing its eastern regions. Given the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s jurisdiction over U.S. policy in Ukraine, including over any arms transfer or sale, we also urge your administration to work closely with the Committee and its members during this critical period.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.

Sincerely,

Senator Bob Corker
Chairman

Senator Robert Menenedez
Ranking Member

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Corker Chastises Putin in Statement on Boris Nemtsov’s Death

Press release from U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; February 28, 2015:

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made the following statement today regarding the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was shot to death on Friday night in Moscow.

“The brutal slaying of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov just outside the Kremlin appears to be an attempt to silence those in Russia wanting to see their country move away from the authoritarianism, corruption, and lawlessness of Vladimir Putin’s regime. At the very least, Putin has created an atmosphere that condones and even encourages such actions,” Corker said. “Boris Nemtsov sought a better future for his people and believed in a strong partnership between our countries. We must remain committed to his vision of a free and democratic Russia that is at peace with itself and its neighbors.”

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UPDATED: Corker, Congress Vote to Poke the Bear

Updated Dec. 16, 1:25pm: The White House has indicated President Barack Obama intends to sign legislation unanimously approved by Congress to provide $350 million of “lethal aid” to Ukraine and impose further sanctions on Russia.

TNReport initially reported the legislation had passed the Senate, but hadn’t yet receive full congressional approval. However, on Dec. 11, new legislation — identical to the Senate bill — was introduced in the House of Representatives and was approved by the full House “without objection” later that day, according to Congress.gov. The Senate then approved the House bill on voice vote Dec. 13.

“Because the bill included loan guarantee provisions and thus, involved raising revenues, a new bill had to be introduced and passed in the House,” according to a press release from House sponsor Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Penn, who is also co-chair of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Monday urged Obama to sign the legislation, which he said would “underline our strong moral commitment to the cause of the Ukrainian people.”

Previous Post, Dec. 14, 8pm:

Tennessee’s junior senator, next in line to lead the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Republicans take control of the chamber in January, wants America more involved in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

Bob Corker, the wealthy former Chattanooga mayor who came of military age during the Vietnam War but never served in the armed forces, is becoming one of the most influential voices in Congress on foreign policy.

His approach of late has been to favor American military interventions and involvement in overseas conflicts. With respect to the regional disharmony in Eastern Europe, he supports the United States sending “lethal aid” to the Ukrainian military in their battle against forces loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And with the Senate’s unanimous passage of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, the nation is one step closer to realizing Corker’s vision.

While the House has yet to vote on the Senate’s legislation — it was referred to committee Dec. 2, according to Congress.gov — last week a House resolution was passed “strongly condemning” the forcible annexation of the Crimean region by Russia, and calling for further sanctions on Russia and aid to Ukraine.  Only 10 representatives voted against the House resolution — five members of each party. Of Tennessee’s House delegation, only Republican Rep. John Duncan, TN-02, and Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper, TN-05, voted against the measure.

The Senate’s Ukraine Freedom Support Act, passed on a voice vote Thursday, authorizes the offer of “lethal aid” to Ukraine, and includes sanctions on Roboronexport, a Russian state agency promoting defense and arms trade, and Gazprom, a major Russian state-controlled natural gas company.

The approved version of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014, sponsored by Corker and outgoing Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., was softened from its original form, which included further sanctions on Russia’s energy industry and designations for Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova as”major non-NATO allies.”

Russian officials have announced they “will not be able to leave this without a response.”

However, while Corker maintains the need for U.S. action to address Putin’s geopolitical overreach, he acknowledged the aid package won’t necessarily turn the tide for Ukraine.

“The lethal support to me is something that certainly is not going to mean that they would ever be able to stand up to Russia. It’s not going to happen. It raises the price, it shows a little bit of a deeper commitment,” Corker said while speaking about the Iranian nuclear program at a Foreign Policy Initiative conference sponsored by Raytheon, an American defense contractor and industrial corporation. The Foreign Policy Initiative is a non-profit think tank supporting U.S. global involvement, a strong military and the spread of democracy.

Corker added the best time for action would have been while the Russian president was preparing to invade Ukraine. But now, “we waited too long, the genie’s out of the bottle,” Corker said. “It’s very difficult to see how we don’t end up in a frozen conflict there.”

Putin is riding a “nationalistic wave” that he will likely “ride even harder” given Russia’s recent economic hardships, including the possibility of recession in 2015, said Corker.  According to a National Public Radio report from last week, Russia’s economy is taking big hits from Western sanctions, the ruble’s recent loss of value and falling oil prices.

When asked about how falling oil prices will effect Russia, Corker joked, “It’s actually much better than any of the sanctions we’ve put in place, right?”

Corker said at the conference he hopes the president will follow congressional lead, because of the legislation’s strong bipartisan support and unanimous approval by the Senate committee.

During Putin’s December 4 “State of the Nation” speech, he denounced Western nations for attacks on the Russian Federation, and alleged Russia’s opponents will find any excuse to impose sanctions on the Eurasian nation.

And in September, Putin called on military leaders to update the nation’s military doctrine to meet changing global politics and military challenges, such as the Syrian civil war and the Ukrainian conflict.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Army announced it would be deploying 100 armored vehicles across Eastern Europe in an effort to deter further “Russian aggression.”