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Testimony

Russian aggression against Ukraine and the West’s policy response

Introduction

Mr. Chairman, Senator Shaheen, distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and the U.S. and West’s policy response.

What began as an internal Ukrainian political dispute became a Ukraine-Russia crisis in early 2014.  Since then, Moscow has used military force to seize Crimea, supported armed separatists and ultimately sent regular Russian army units into eastern Ukraine.  A ceasefire agreement was reached in Minsk last September, but the separatists and Russians failed to implement its terms.  The Minsk II ceasefire agreed on February 12 may now be taking effect but seems fragile at best.  Implementing other terms of the agreement will prove difficult.

Driving Russia’s aggression has been a mix of geopolitical and domestic political considerations.  The Kremlin’s goal over the past year appears to have been to destabilize and distract the Ukrainian government, in order keep that government from addressing its pressing economic, financial and other challenges as well as from drawing closer to the European Union through implementation of the EU-Ukraine association agreement.

Beyond Ukraine, the United States and Europe face a broader Russia problem.  Moscow has operated its military forces in a more provocative manner near NATO members and has asserted a right to “protect” ethnic Russians and Russian speakers wherever they are located and whatever their citizenship.  That policy could pose a threat to other states, including Estonia and Latvia, both members of NATO.

The United States and the West should pursue a multi-pronged strategy to deal with Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and Moscow’s generally more confrontational approach.  First, NATO should bolster its ability to deter Russian threats to the Alliance’s members, particularly in the Baltic region.  This means enhancing NATO conventional force capabilities there, including capabilities to deal with the hybrid warfare techniques that Russia has demonstrated in Ukraine.

Second, the West should support Ukraine, including through provision of substantial financial assistance if Kyiv proceeds with a serious reform agenda.  Avoiding a financial collapse of Ukraine will require that the European Union and United States supplement the International Monetary Fund’s extended fund facility program.

Third, the West should maintain economic and other sanctions on Russia until Moscow demonstrates a full commitment to a negotiated settlement in eastern Ukraine and takes demonstrable and substantive measures to implement that settlement.  Should Russia not do so, or should separatist and Russian forces resume military operations, the United States and European Union should impose additional sanctions.

Fourth, the United States should make preparations to provide increased military assistance to Ukraine, including defensive weapons.  Provision of that assistance should proceed if the separatists or Russians violate the ceasefire, or if Moscow fails to implement the terms of the Minsk II agreement.

Fifth, the West should leave the door open for Russia to change course and help end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, even if expectations of such a change in Moscow’s course are modest at best.

Finally, while Ukraine has correctly deferred the issue of Crimea for now, the West should continue to not recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of the peninsula.  If Russian actions regarding eastern Ukraine merit sanctions relief, the United States and European Union nevertheless should maintain some sanctions, including measures specifically targeted at Crimea, until the peninsula’s status is resolved to Kyiv’s satisfaction.


Click here or below to read the entirety of Pifer’s testimony.

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