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Opinion Pieces

The Washington Examiner: If Europe forgets Crimea, will anyone stand up to Putin?

by Rep. Steve Chabot & Rep. Gerry Connolly | June 28, 2019 04:59 PM

Click here to read on The Washington Examiner's website.

The creeping normalization of Russia’s abhorrent behavior continues. This week, the Council of Europe, which bills itself as “the continent’s leading human rights organization," overwhelmingly decided to reinstate Russia’s voting rights.

This decision is a mistake. Russia was stripped of its voting rights in 2014 after its forcible and illegal annexation of Crimea. Since then, circumstances have only deteriorated further. The Kremlin has consolidated its control in Crimea and last fall, Moscow also illegally detained 24 Ukrainian sailors, who remain in Russian custody today.

Crimea isn’t Moscow’s only land grab. In 2008, while the press was distracted by the Beijing Olympics, Putin invaded Georgia, seizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, one fifth of the country’s territory. And Russia is still fighting in Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

Since Russia’s illegal occupations continue, so too must the sanctions designed to punish them. Instead, the Europeans bowed to Russia’s threat to leave the Council of Europe altogether. Unfortunately, representatives from Western Europe voted overwhelmingly to carry the measure, which passed by a 118 to 62 margin. Most opposition came from former Soviet bloc countries, who know better.

As senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, we believe that Ukraine and Georgia must not be forgotten. That is why we wrote the Crimea Annexation Non-Recognition Act, H.R. 596, a bipartisan measure that passed the House in March and would prevent the United States from recognizing Russian sovereignty over Crimea. This policy mirrors the United States’ decades-long refusal to recognize the Soviet Union’s seizure of the Baltic States.

It is also why we have advanced the Georgia Support Act, H.R. 598, with our colleague Congressman Adam Kinzinger. This legislation, which unanimously passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee in May, would strengthen our security support for Georgia, enhance cybersecurity cooperation, and sanction those who commit human rights abuses in the territory of Georgia currently occupied by Russia.

Russia’s occupation of Crimea, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia is not the only disqualifier for its participation in the Council of Europe, which “was set up to promote democracy and protect human rights and the rule of law in Europe.” The Kremlin is engaged in a systematic effort to undermine each of these principles at home and abroad.

Not only has Putin suppressed democracy and imprisoned political opponents in Russia, but he has attacked free and fair elections across Europe and in the United States. The poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain, as well as pervasive attacks on press freedoms in Russia, are chilling and deadly reminders of Putin’s disdain for human rights. Such behaviors must not be condoned.

The Council of Europe’s decision to reinstate Russia is the first time it has lifted major sanctions on Russia since Moscow forcibly and illegally annexed Crimea. This decision to bow to Russian pressure undermines the credibility of all efforts to stand up to the Kremlin — and appeases Russia with nothing to show for it.

Europe is indispensable to advancing our shared principles of freedom and democracy around the world. The Council of Europe must be willing to stand up to Russia’s direct attacks on democracy, human rights, and the forcible seizure of European soil.

Rep. Steve Chabot is a Republican representing Ohio’s 1st District, and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly is a Democrat who represents Virginia’s 11th District.
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