Let me welcome everyone here today and thank you, Assistant Secretary Nuland, for agreeing to participate in this important and timely hearing. I look forward to examining the current situation in Ukraine and discussing how the United States, together with the international community, including the EU and the OSCE, can best assist Ukraine and deter further Russian aggression.
Since late November, Ukraine has been in turmoil, with a deteriorating economy and public unrest by millions of protestors fed up with the human rights and democracy rollback, and the massive corruption that characterized the four-year rule of Viktor Yanukovych. The largely peaceful protests culminated in a violent crackdown, resulting in the killing of more than 80 people in a span of 3 days. This, in turn, led to Yanukovych’s removal by a sizeable majority in parliament on February 22. Since then, an interim government has been working at a rapid pace to address numerous internal challenges, moving forward on badly needed economic and political reforms and preparing for the crucial May 25th presidential elections.
As if these internal challenges weren’t enough, just a few days into the interim government’s tenure, Russia seized Crimea by force. Russia held an illegal, farcical referendum and annexed the peninsula. Russia's illegal actions violate numerous international obligations, including the core principles of the Helsinki Final Act. The land grab, cloaked in the cloth of self-determination, brings to mind darker times in Europe’s history, undermines the international order and sets a dangerous precedent. We saw Russia take similar action in Georgia, and now in Crimea in Ukraine. If this goes unchecked and if we do not speak with a unified voice, it just encourages more irresponsible action by Russia and other countries around the world that might be so inclined.
Meanwhile, Russia continues to threaten Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity with further military intervention, and attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the new government, including through a propaganda campaign where truth is a casualty. In the last few days, Russian agents have fomented protests in several eastern cities in an attempt to destabilize Ukraine and make it more amenable to Russia’s influence. Yet these efforts do not appear to be finding fertile ground. It is clear that Ukrainians want to live in a united Ukraine. Even among ethnic Russians, there have been no great cries of discrimination. And it is clear that the people of Ukraine long for the rule of law, transparency, democracy and respect for human rights. They want to be afforded the dignity and respect that all human beings desire and deserve. The May 25 elections will be vital to understanding the aspirations of the people of Ukraine and the course they want to chart for their future. A free and democratic electoral process is a powerful response to Russian perceptions and Russian aggression.
Given what’s at stake, it is so important for the Administration, the Congress and the international community to respond, and I believe it is absolutely essential that we speak with a strong united voice in standing with the people of Ukraine. I particularly want to note the vital work of the OSCE and its various institutions, which have been actively engaged in sending monitoring missions and representatives to help foster security and respect for human rights. The OSCE has just deployed a large special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. I hope that Russia will not prohibit this mission, as well as other smaller OSCE missions, from entering Crimea.
I am especially gratified that last week, the Senate and House—on an overwhelming bipartisan basis—were able to send to the President, for his signature, legislation underscoring our country’s solidarity with the Ukrainian people with tangible economic, democracy and security assistance. This legislation also sanctions Ukrainians and Russians responsible for undermining Ukrainian sovereignty and massive corruption. We must continue to stand with the people of Ukraine as they defend their democracy, integrity and independence. We must ourselves defend the Helsinki principles, and other international principles, which Russia has so blatantly violated.
As Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Secretary Nuland continues to play a central role in forging and implementing U.S. policy regarding Ukraine, Russia and the region during this extraordinarily challenging time. I look forward to your testimony.