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Chabot in The Hill: Setting the record straight on Crimea

Washington, September 27, 2016 | comments
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Setting the record straight on Crimea
By Steve Chabot (R-OH)
The Hill
September 27, 2016

My colleague on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Hon. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), wrote a thought-provoking and provocative op-ed on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion and occupation of eastern Ukraine. We can all agree that Putin’s domination of Ukraine is a wanton act of aggression that is in complete violation of international law. However, there is a need for sober reflection and clarification on this threat to U.S. national security. Donald Trump is not responsible for the Russian presence in the Crimea; Vladimir Putin is.

Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Crimea came down to one factor: opportunity. Ukraine was tearing itself apart on the heels of a second revolution in a decade’s time. Putin’s cabal resolved that the time was right to reverse Nikita Khruschev’s decision to give Crimea to Ukraine in the 1950s. Only the archives will ultimately tell us what motivated Putin. However, Ukraine is a valuable piece of property for Russia. (The Manhattan real estate developer, my party’s nominee for President, did not need to tell Putin any of this.) Ukraine holds several of Russia’s gas lines to Western Europe; it provides an opening for Moscow to project naval power; and it is the home of Russian civilization.

One likely component of Putin’s calculus has been President Obama’s willingness to back down after issuing empty threats. As I pointed out in a recent piece in The National Interest, President Obama has repeatedly issued and then erased multiple red lines over a plethora of issues, damaging America’s credibility in the process. My colleague writes of the President’s resolve; however, there has been very little evidence of this supposed “resolve” to date. Instead, all decision-makers in the Kremlin and across the world have seen are more empty threats.

Congressman Connolly misses a larger point about the recent history of U.S.-Russian relations. He suggests that Donald Trump is an anomaly when it comes to his suggestion that we improve our relationship with Russia. When Barack Obama was elected President, he and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised a “reset” with the Kremlin. Although he was the first to use that phrase, it was not a new policy. According to A.E. Stent, a Georgetown expert on U.S.-Russian relations who served on the National Security Council under Democrat and Republican Administrations, resets have been attempted by every post-Cold War administration since George H.W. Bush was in office. Secretary of State John F. Kerry continues to attempt to work feverishly with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, to find a solution to the carnage in Syria. Despite the conventional wisdom that Donald Trump is an anti-establishment figure, the general tenor of his ideas about working with Russia are as conventional as you can get. Multiple administrations’, Democrat and Republican, have track records that would confirm this.

Congressman Connolly is right to put foreign policy at the center of this year’s election debate. We have focused too much on personalities and too little on policy. However, my friend on the other side of the aisle’s op-ed needs a reset of its own. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea was an act of aggression borne out of naked opportunism and encouraged by the Obama Administration’s unfortunate record of empty threats and feckless solutions.

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