Title

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Chernobyl
Radioactive and Reclaimed by Nature
Tuesday, June 04, 2019

By Rachel Bauman, Policy Advisor
and Kyle Parker, Senior Senate Staff Representative

Disaster

In the early morning hours of April 26, 1986, during a safety test designed to simulate a power outage, a combination of operator error and inherent flaws in reactor design led to an explosion and fire at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station’s Reactor 4. The graphite fire burned uncontained for nine days, releasing radioactive particles over most of Europe, contaminating Ukraine and neighboring Belarus most severely.

It took nearly two full days for Soviet authorities to begin the evacuation of the approximately 50,000 residents of the nearby city of Pripyat, located just a mile away from the power station. A public admission of the accident only came on the evening of April 28 following diplomatic pressure on the Kremlin from the government of Sweden where, earlier that day, monitors at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant north of Stockholm had detected elevated radiation levels and suspected an accident in the Soviet Union. Given the secrecy of the Soviet system, the subjectivity of first-hand accounts, and the breakup of the Soviet Union, some of the why and how of what happened remain controversial.


This amusement park in Pripyat was scheduled to open on May 1, 1986, a few days before the disaster.

Less than six months after the disaster, construction began on nearby Slavutych, a city to replace Pripyat and house the displaced workers from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station and their families. Much work remained to be done to contain and assess the April disaster, not to mention run the remaining three reactors, the last of which ceased to operate only in December 2000. The formal decommissioning process of Reactors 1, 2, and 3 began in 2015 and will continue for decades.

To this day, many residents of Slavutych board a special train for the power station’s workers transiting Belarus to enter the Exclusion Zone for work at the plant and nearby storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel.

Consequences

Thirty-three years after that safety test at Reactor 4 went fatally wrong, the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station remains the worst in world history, superseding the 1979 partial meltdown of a reactor at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania and eclipsing the meltdown of three reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant following damage sustained by a catastrophic tsunami in 2011. The accident at Three Mile Island remains the worst in the history of U.S. commercial atomic energy and ranked a 5 (accident with wider consequences) on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s scale of assessing nuclear and radiological events. Chernobyl and Fukushima are the only two disasters to ever be ranked as a 7 (major accident), the scale’s maximum.

Due to the differences in the half-lives of the specific contaminants, a full remediation and resettlement around Fukushima holds far greater promise than around Chernobyl. If radioactive leakage can be fully contained at Fukushima, there is a chance that the area could be declared completely safe for permanent human habitation in less than 100 years. By comparison, the first zone of exclusion immediately surrounding Chernobyl’s Reactor 4 is likely to remain unsafe for permanent habitation for thousands of years.

The total human, environmental, and financial cost of the disaster is fraught with obvious political sensitivities, but even in the scientific realm, significant disputes remain. The unprecedented magnitude of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster frustrates efforts to draw a definitive conclusion on the lingering effects of the explosion and fire of 1986. While there is wide agreement that somewhere between 30 and 50 people died in the immediate aftermath as a direct result of the accident, consensus breaks down over estimates of a longer-term assessment of deaths attributable to the radioactive fallout from the disaster.

Shortly after the disaster, a zone of approximately 1,000 square miles around Reactor 4 was established, evacuated, and condemned for permanent human habitation. This area—known as the Exclusion or Alienation Zone—has begun the long process of being reclaimed by nature.

The area is divided between Zone 1 and Zones 2 and 3. The first zone is the immediate vicinity around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station and comprises roughly 15 percent of the total Exclusion Zone. It is also contaminated with transuranium elements that decay over a period of thousands of years, placing this area off-limits indefinitely. Zones 2 and 3 comprise the remaining territory and were largely contaminated with elements that decay much faster. Some of this shorter-term contamination is already gone and the rest could be gone in the coming decades.

The Exclusion Zone is as alive as it is hauntingly empty. Forests encroach on what were once fertile fields. Butterflies flutter above concrete cracked open by saplings. Wild horses roam by day and wolves by night, and entropy takes its toll on man-made construction. It almost seems that the flora and fauna suffered more from proximity to humans than they now do from lingering radiation in the contaminated soil—a phenomenon known as the ecological paradox.

Containment

In those first critical hours after the explosion, when firefighters heroically battled a radioactive blaze, efforts were made to erect temporary barriers around the damaged core of Reactor 4. Those emergency efforts continued once the fire was out, but the hasty construction allowed radiation to continue to escape the confines of the reactor and was structurally unsuitable for containing the deadly transuranium elements inside. In 2018, with the support of the international donor community, Ukraine completed construction on the New Safe Confinement facility designed to safely entomb Reactor 4 for as long as 100 years.


Helsinki Commission policy advisor Rachel Bauman inside the structure containing Reactor 4.

Support from the West, most notably the United States, is critical to safety. Currently, Western contractors are working with Ukrainian partners to complete the construction of a long-term storage facility for spent nuclear fuel from other reactors across the country. Construction is reportedly on, or slightly ahead of, schedule on this facility that is planned to eliminate Ukraine’s need to contract with Russia for its growing storage needs.

Protecting the public from the widely dispersed radioactive particulate found within the Exclusion Zone is the main reason for the establishment of the zone itself as well as the multiple checkpoints encountered when leaving the zone. The most immediate danger to further contamination of habitable areas beyond the Exclusion Zone are wildfires; their smoke disperses contaminated debris into the atmosphere and in the direction of prevailing winds. Ukrainian firefighters have trained regularly with firefighters from the American West as they execute what is not only a domestic priority, but an international responsibility.

Other regular challenges to the safe administration of the Exclusion Zone are trespassers pursuing adventure, souvenirs, or wild game. Risks include not only the obvious danger of radiation exposure, but also crumbling construction and poor communications should a rescue be needed. Trespassers also risk the safety of the broader public by inadvertently transporting radioactive materials outside the Exclusion Zone.

A final, and enduring, challenge to securing the Exclusion Zone lies with waning public interest and thus political pressure to devoting scarce financial resources to protect this beautiful but contaminated landscape for the long term.

The Future

Government authorities plan to use Exclusion Zone 1 for dangerous industrial activities such as storing spent nuclear fuel or developing massive solar panel farms designed to replace some of the electricity that was once generated by the power station’s four reactors. The remainder of the Exclusion Zone will serve as a buffer between habitable areas and Zone 1 as well as a unique nature preserve and massive open-air laboratory to study any lingering effects of the disaster.


Construction site of a future spent storage facility.

As the passage of time has made parts of the Exclusion Zone safer, more and more visitors come to learn about those tragic events of the spring of 1986. Locals are beginning to tap a developing market for nuclear tourism, fueled by politicians, scientists, and thrill-seekers.

When leaving the Exclusion Zone and passing through the last checkpoint, travelers are greeted by tour buses, flag-carrying guides, and a roadside kiosk selling cheap t-shirts. Increasing interest in Chernobyl tours, and particularly the photogenic abandoned town of Pripyat, ensure a steady stream of income. The city may no longer generate power, but it continues to generate interest.

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  • Georgia 2008, Ukraine 2014: Is Moldova Next?

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  • Senator Cardin's Floor Statement on Deteriorating Situation in Ukraine

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There is no doubt in my mind that if Mr. Putin gave the word, this hostage situation would cease to exist.  This hostage-taking of unarmed international monitors must continue to be condemned in the strongest possible terms, and everything possible must be done to secure their release. In addition to the OSCE observers, 40 people—journalists, activists, police officers, and politicians—are reportedly being held captive in makeshift jails in Slovyansk.  Meanwhile, the violence in Eastern Ukraine continues. On Monday, several thousand peaceful protesters marching in favor of Ukraine’s unity were attacked by pro-Russian thugs wielding clubs and whips, resulting in 15 seriously injured. That same day, Gennady Kernes, the mayor of Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, was shot, underwent emergency surgery, and remains in serious condition. He is now in Israel for further medical treatment.  Furthermore, I am deeply dismayed at other flagrant violations of human rights by pro-Russian militants in Eastern Ukraine and in Russia’s annexed Crimea. These include attacks and threats against minority groups, particularly Jews and Roma as well as Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea. Supporters of a united Ukraine have been targeted as well, including a local politician and university student whose tortured bodies were found dumped in a river near Slovyansk.  The joint statement on Ukraine signed in Geneva on April 17 by the EU, the United States, Russia, and Ukraine calls on all sides to lay down their arms, vacate buildings, and begin the process of dialogue and de-escalation. That was signed just 2 weeks ago. That agreement provided a basis for de-escalation. Yet, over the course of the last days and weeks, we have not seen the Russians follow through on urging separatists to stand down in Eastern Ukraine. What have we seen? Kyiv, on the one hand, is taking concrete steps and making good-faith efforts to live up to the Geneva agreement, including vacating buildings and offering dialogue. Russia has done nothing. Instead of working to de-escalate the conflict, it is doing the opposite—fueling escalation. Russia continues to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and flagrantly flaunts its commitments under the Geneva agreement.  The Geneva agreement also calls upon the parties to refrain from any violence, intimidation, or provocative actions and condemns and rejects all expressions of extremism, racism, religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism. Clearly, both the spirit and the letter of this agreement have been breached by Russia.  In recent days we have seen troubling manifestations against ethnic and religious minority communities. The distribution of flyers in Donetsk calling for Jews to register their religion and property is a chilling reminder of an especially dark period in European history. While the perpetrators of this onerous action have not been determined, one thing is clear: Moscow, which controls the pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, is using anti-Semitism as an ingredient in its anti-Ukrainian campaign. Perhaps even worse, among the Russian special forces and agitators operating in Ukraine are members of the neo-Nazi and other anti-Semitic groups.  Jewish communities in parts of Eastern Ukraine are not the only ones that have reason to be worried. In Slovyansk, armed separatists have invaded Romani homes and beaten and robbed men, women, and children. Ukrainian speakers—including Ukrainian-speaking journalists—have reportedly experienced intimidation in the largely Russian-speaking Donetsk area.  At the same time in Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed, Crimean Tatars continue to be threatened with deportation and attacked for speaking their own language in their ancestral homeland. Moreover, the longtime leader of the Crimean Tatar community and former Soviet political prisoner Mustafa Dzhemilev has been banned from returning to Crimea.  It is important to underscore that Crimea is the ancestral home of the Crimean Tatars, who in 1944 were forcibly and brutally evicted by Stalin to central Asia and only allowed to return to their home in the early 1990s. Additionally, the separatist Crimean authorities have gone after the Ukrainian community, announcing that Ukrainian literature and history will no longer be offered in Crimean schools.  These attacks and threats underscore the importance of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission and other OSCE institutions in Ukraine in assessing the situation on the ground and helping to de-escalate tensions. They need to be permitted to operate unhindered—and most certainly not held hostage—in Eastern Ukraine and to be allowed access into Crimea, which Russia continues to block. The actions against pro-Ukrainian activists and minorities are the direct result of Russia’s unfounded and illegal aggression against Ukraine—first in Crimea and then in Eastern Ukraine. There is no doubt as to who pulls the strings. The Kremlin has been relentlessly flaunting their Geneva promises and has done nothing to rein in the militants they control. Mr. Putin needs to get Russian soldiers and other as-sorted military and intelligence operatives out of Ukraine.  We must not forget Crimea. We must never recognize Russia’s forcible, illegal annexation of the Ukrainian territory, which violates every single one of the 10 core OSCE Helsinki principles. We must build on the punitive measures already undertaken against the Russian and Ukrainian individuals who so blatantly violated the international agreements in the Ukrainian and Cri-mean Constitutions. Violations of another nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty must not be tolerated. Russia’s flagrant land grab of Crimea has set a horrible precedent for those countries harboring illegal territorial ambitions around the globe. I welcome the President’s stepping up of economic sanctions on seven Russian officials, including members of President Putin’s inner circle and 17 companies linked to Mr. Putin. I also welcome the State Department and Commerce Department tightening pol-icy to deny export license applications for any high-technology items that could contribute to Russia’s military capabilities. I am confident Russia will feel the impact of these sanctions. These, along with the further targeted sanctions announced by the EU earlier this week, will only continue to have a growing impact.  Nevertheless, if the situation in eastern Ukraine continues to deteriorate, or even should the status quo persist, the United States needs to ratchet up these sanctions, and soon, including several sectoral sanctions against Russia’s industries such as banking, mining, energy, and defense.  Of equal importance, we need to remain steadfast in helping Ukraine become a stronger democratic state and foster its political and economic stability. The millions of men, women, and children who demonstrated for months for human rights and human dignity spoke loudly and clearly, expressing the wishes of the vast majority of the Ukrainian citizens. The interim government has been working hard under exceedingly difficult circumstances to move Ukraine further on the path of economic and political reforms. We and our international partners need to keep making this progress our focal point. Ukraine needs a lot of help after the devastation wreaked on their economy by the in-credibly corrupt and dysfunctional Yanukovych regime.  Ukraine has so many pressing needs. Among the most important are stabilizing the economy and preparing for the most important May 25 Presidential elections. Others include judicial reform, reform of the police and military, seeking justice and rehabilitation for the victims of the violence, including those suffering now at the hands of the pro-Russian militants, helping internally displaced people who are fleeing Crimea, and working to recover the billions in assets stolen by the previous regime.  I am pleased Ukraine’s civil society, including Western-educated young people, is firmly committed to the rule of law and democracy and is playing a critical role in helping the Ukrainian Government work toward these ends. NGOs and think tanks have worked with the Parliament to pass a law on the independence of public broadcasting, a bill on public procurement, and one on how judges are appointed— all critical in fighting the scourge of corruption.  The United States is providing concrete assistance through a U.S. crisis support package for Ukraine, which includes support for the integrity of the May elections and constitutional reform, substantial economic assistance, energy security technical expertise, help to recover proceeds of corruptions stolen by the former regime, and other anticorruption assistance, and fostering greater people-to-people contacts. We need to be willing to provide more resources to the Ukrainians as they actively work to fulfill their aspirations.  Ultimately, these choices will lead to a more secure, democratic, and peaceful world, and that is something that reflects both American interests and American values.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Cites Deterioration of Media Freedoms across OSCE Region

    WASHINGTON—In advance of World Press Freedom Day, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and U.S. Representative Chris Smith (NJ), Co-Chairman of the Commission, addressed the deterioration of media freedom in Ukraine, and the continued presence of criminal defamation:  On the situation in Ukraine, Chairman Cardin stated: “I am deeply concerned by the rapidly degenerating state of media freedom precipitated by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Pro-Russian militias continue to harass, intimidate, and censor both Ukrainian and foreign journalists reporting on the situation in an attempt to quell criticism of separatist-instigated violence and upheaval. Free and independent media is a crucial component of the commitments adopted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which Russia and Ukraine are participating States. I urge Russia to respect media independence and freedom in its own territory as well as in Ukraine.” “Many countries in the OSCE region continue to limit speech to an extraordinary degree,” said Co-Chairman Smith. “I’m particularly concerned by the rise of criminal defamation laws which make it increasingly difficult, and even dangerous, to criticize those in power. These libel and insult laws have an absolutely chilling effect on robust inquiry and the ability to hold politicians and others accountable. I commend the efforts of the OSCE and other organizations to call attention to these and other attacks against freedom of press. A strong and independent media, free from political pressure and censorship, is fundamental to sustainable and accountable democracy.” The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media reports regularly to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna, including on developments in Ukraine. In advance of World Press Freedom Day, the Commission also noted concern about media freedom in the following countries: UKRAINE: In the town of Slavyansk, over 40 individuals, including many reporters, have been abducted by separatists and held hostage in various makeshift prisons. In the Donbas region, pro-Russian armed forces discontinued digital broadcasting of Ukrainian TV channels and replaced them with Russian ones, mirroring the disruption of Ukrainian press by Russian forces in Crimea. There have been several accounts of journalists being physically intimidated while reporting both in the field and within their offices. TURKEY: Turkey imprisoned more journalists in 2013 than any other country. Currently, legislation is going into effect in Turkey that expands the powers of secret services and stipulates 10 year prison sentences for journalists who publish leaked information. In the last few months, Turkey undertook an immense crackdown on social media, particularly by banning access to Twitter and YouTube. MACEDONIA: In Macedonia, media coverage, largely unbalanced in favor of the ruling party and against the opposition, was a leading criticism of the conduct of last week’s presidential and parliamentary elections. This bias is symptomatic of the great regression in media freedom noted in Macedonia in recent years. Journalists and news sources not allied with the government tend to face increased scrutiny and legal hurdles. KAZAKHSTAN: Recent changes to Kazakhstan’s legislation are likely to further restrict media and access to the Internet. New rules control what the media can report during a state of emergency; a new code criminalizes “dissemination of false information” that harms “interests of society or of the state”; and pending legislation would allow the government to shut websites and other communication networks if they disseminate “harmful” information or call for “extremist” activities. Kazakhstan also has closed virtually all independent newspapers for minor infractions of publishing regulations or on charges of extremism. CROATIA: In Croatia, where the legal definition of “insult” is vague and open to arbitrary enforcement, there are currently over 40 pending criminal insult cases against journalists. This situation, whether or not the cases result in convictions, could lead to increased self-censorship in the media. AZERBAIJAN: The status of press and media in Azerbaijan is decidedly not free. Criminal defamation is still punishable with up to three years in prison. Media and NGO movements that aim to create space for media freedom have been checked at every turn, through various techniques ranging from ignoring lawsuits seeking access to information, to pressing criminal charges on journalists. Most recently, Azerbaijani journalist Rauf Mirkadyrov was arrested and charged with espionage. 

  • Cardin, Wicker Lead Colleagues in Urging Action to Free OSCE Observers Held in Ukraine

    WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Chairman and Senate Ranking Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, along with Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), and Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), have written to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to take action to secure the release of observers being held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The senators also seek action to stem the tide of “other flagrant violations of human rights by pro-Russian militants” in the region. “In addition to the OSCE observers, several dozen people — journalists, activists, police officers, politicians — are reportedly being held captive in makeshift jails in Slovyansk … we continue to be deeply dismayed at the other flagrant violations of human rights by pro-Russian militants in eastern and southern Ukraine,” the senators wrote. “These attacks and threats underscore the importance of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission and other OSCE institutions in Ukraine in assessing the situation on the ground and helping to de-escalate tensions. … “To be sure, the actions against pro-Ukrainian activists and minorities are the direct result of Russia’s unfounded and illegal aggression towards Ukraine – first in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine. … we commit to working with you so that the United States and its international partners can significantly increase the diplomatic pressure on Russia, especially through economic sanctions … Violations of human rights, particularly the rights of minorities, as well as gross violations of another nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty must not be tolerated.” The text of the letter follows. April 30, 2014 The Honorable John Kerry Secretary of State United States Department of State 2201 C Street Northwest Washington, D.C.  20520 Dear Secretary Kerry: We write to you to express our alarm at the detention of members of a military observer mission operating under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  They are being held hostage by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk. We urge you to do everything in your power to help secure their release. In addition to the OSCE observers, several dozen people — journalists, activists, police officers, politicians — are reportedly being held captive in makeshift jails in Slovyansk. Furthermore, we continue to be deeply dismayed at the other flagrant violations of human rights by pro-Russian militants in eastern and southern Ukraine.  These include attacks and threats against minority groups, particularly Jews and Roma as well as Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians in Crimea.  Supporters of a united Ukraine have been targeted as well, including a local politician and a university student whose tortured bodies were found dumped in a river near Slovyansk. The Joint Statement on Ukraine signed on April 17 by the EU, the United States, Russia and Ukraine calls on all sides to refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions and condemns and rejects all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism. We fear both the spirit and the letter of this agreement have been breached. In recent days, we have seen troubling manifestations against ethnic and religious minority communities.  The distribution of flyers in Donetsk calling for Jews to register their religion and property is a chilling reminder of an especially dark period in European history and we welcome your unequivocal remarks of condemnation. While the perpetrators of this onerous action have not been determined, one thing is clear:  Moscow, which controls the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, is using anti-Semitism as an ingredient in its anti-Ukrainian campaign, utilizing its media as a vehicle.  Perhaps more insidiously, among the various Russian special forces, operatives and agitators in Ukraine are members of neo-Nazi groups and the Black Hundreds, a reincarnation of the notorious Russian anti-Semitic organization that existed more than a century ago. Jewish communities in parts of eastern Ukraine are not the only ones with reasons to be worried.  In Slovyansk, armed separatists have invaded Romani houses, beating and robbing men, women and children. Even Ukrainian-speakers, including Ukrainian-speaking journalists, have reportedly experienced intimidation in the largely Russian-speaking Donetsk oblast. At the same time, in the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula, Crimean Tatars continue to be threatened with deportation and attacked for speaking their own language in their ancestral homeland. Moreover, the most visible long-time leader of the Crimean Tatar community and former Soviet political prisoner Mustafa Dzhemilev, has reportedly been banned from returning to Crimea.  Additionally, the separatist Crimean authorities announced that Ukrainian literature and history will no longer be offered in Crimean schools. We commend the Ukrainian government for its denunciation of attacks and threats against minorities and its pledge to find those responsible and bring them to justice. It is imperative that the Russian-controlled separatist groups cease their de-stabilizing, violent activity, which has left all minorities vulnerable. These attacks and threats underscore the importance of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission and other OSCE institutions in Ukraine in assessing the situation on the ground and helping to de-escalate tensions. They need to be permitted to operate unhindered in eastern Ukraine and to be allowed access into Crimea, which Russia has thus far blocked.  We urge you to continue to do everything possible to facilitate their unimpeded access to all parts of Ukraine, including the provision of adequate resources. To be sure, the actions against pro-Ukrainian activists and minorities are the direct result of Russia’s unfounded and illegal aggression towards Ukraine – first in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin needs to keep the Geneva promises and immediately rein in the militants and get Russian soldiers and other assorted operatives out of Ukraine.  If not, we commit to working with you so that the United States and its international partners can significantly increase the diplomatic pressure on Russia, especially through economic sanctions. Violations of human rights, particularly the rights of minorities, as well as gross violations of another nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty must not be tolerated. Sincerely, Benjamin L. Cardin, U.S.S. Roger F. Wicker, U.S.S. Jeanne Shaheen, U.S.S. Richard Blumenthal, U.S.S. Barbara A. Mikulski, U.S.S. Brian Schatz, U.S.S. Michael F. Bennet, U.S.S. Christopher Murphy, U.S.S.

  • Cardin, Colleagues Ask Kerry To Urge NATO, OSCE To End All Defense Contracts With Russia

    WASHINGTON– In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, – joined by 10 of his colleagues – asked the State Department to urge NATO member countries and participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to end all defense contracts with Russia in response to the country’s illegal annexation of Crimea and violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. Cardin was joined by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Daniel Coats (R-Ind.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), David Vitter (R-La.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and U.S. Representatives Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), and Michael Burgess (R-Texas). “We believe the United States must show leadership by terminating all defense contracts with Russia and ask that you strongly encourage our NATO allies and OSCE participating states to take similar actions,” the members of Congress wrote. “We urge you to lead the coordination among NATO and OSCE to halt trade involving military equipment with Russia immediately. We believe this is a crucial step in reestablishing a deterrent against further Russian aggression and strengthening the impact of our targeted economic sanctions against Russia.” Text of the letter is  below.   April 14, 2014 The Honorable John Kerry Secretary of State United States Department of State 2201 C Street Northwest Washington, D.C. 20520 Dear Secretary Kerry: We write to express our support for NATO’s decision to suspend military and civilian cooperation with Russia. We also ask that you further urge both NATO member countries and participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to work cooperatively to cease all trade involving military equipment with Russia in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. This would be a forceful next step by both international organizations (of which the United States is a member) to affirm that there is no more business as usual when it comes to bilateral trade of military equipment given Russia’s hostile actions. As you are aware, two decades ago the Partnership for Peace program was implemented to foster trust between NATO member countries and the member states of the former Soviet Union, and to acknowledge a shared political commitment to creating lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area. This integration with the member states of the former Soviet Union was predicated on shared values and common obligations to uphold international law. Likewise, the Helsinki Final Act, which has been signed by 57 OSCE nations, including the United States, affirmed our collective commitment to sovereign equality, respect for human rights, and fundamental freedoms. Russia violated these shared principles by disregarding its treaty obligations under the bilateral Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.  We should immediately halt the trade in military equipment now that Russia has reneged on its commitment to abide by international law. Russia has clearly violated the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, and its actions are antithetical to the principles that NATO member countries like the United States seek to uphold. Nonetheless, significant bilateral trade in military equipment continues. The United Kingdom announced the Military Technical Cooperation Agreement with Russia in January 2014, which would provide a framework for Russian and UK defense companies to cooperate at an unclassified level and enable British and Russian arms producers to exchange defense components and technical data. France has continued an existing contract to sell two high-tech Mistral warships to Russia, and the Hungarian Ministry of Defense recently acquired three Mil Mi-8 transport helicopters produced by Rosoboronexport. Unfortunately and inexplicably, the United States is, at the time of writing, continuing with plans to receive 22 more Mi-17 helicopters from Russia as part of our ongoing assistance to Afghanistan. We believe the United States must show leadership by terminating all defense contracts with Russia and ask that you strongly encourage our NATO allies and OSCE participating states to take similar actions. We urge you to lead the coordination among NATO and OSCE to halt trade involving military equipment with Russia immediately. We believe this is a crucial step in reestablishing a deterrent against further Russian aggression and strengthening the impact of our targeted economic sanctions against Russia. We thank you for your attention to this matter. Sincerely, BENJAMIN L. CARDIN United States Senate   RICHARD BLUMENTHAL                                                   United States Senate   JOHN CORNYN                             United States Senate   ROGER F. WICKER                                 United States Senate                              DANIEL COATS                             United States Senate   CHRISTOPHER S. MURPHY                             United States Senate   DAVID VITTER United States Senate   KELLY AYOTTE United States Senate   LOUISE M. SLAUGHTER Member of Congress   JOE PITTS Member of Congress   MICHAEL C. BURGESS Member of Congress

  • Cardin Assures Maryland’s Ukrainian Community that Putin will Pay for Aggression in Ukraine

    BALTIMORE, Md.–U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), convened members of Maryland’s Ukrainian community for a roundtable discussion to share the latest information on the U.S. and international response to the crisis in Ukraine, including the continued hostility by Russia. “Ukraine is an incredibly important country and Ukrainian Americans are rightly concerned for their family and friends about Russia’s actions in Crimea and what Russia might do next. The U.S. and the international community will ensure that Russia is held accountable for its blatant violations of international agreements and unlawful violation of Crimea’s sovereign borders. The sanctions leveled against Russia are directed at Mr. Putin and his inner circle that are responsible for this ongoing aggression, not the people of Russia. We will ensure that Mr. Putin pays a heavy price for his inability to conform to international norms, and honor Russia’s agreements. The government in Kyiv has the full support of United States and we will use all available diplomatic and economic tools to return stability to Ukraine,” said Senator Cardin. “Through our economic policies, particularly energy, we need to help Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and the new leadership in Kyiv succeed without being beholden to Russia. The message clearly received from Maryland’s Ukrainian American clergy, local Ukrainian leaders and advocacy organizations is one of worry for their family in Ukraine. They are united in a strong determination that the U.S. and international partners keep the pressure on Russia for what they have done in Crimea, and so additional regions are not put at greater risk.”

  • Confronting Internal Challenges and External Threats

    The hearing focused on the current situation in Ukraine and discussed how the United States, along with the including EU and the OSCE, could best assist Ukraine and deters further Russian aggression. Since November of 2014, Ukraine has been in turmoil, with a deteriorating economy, public unrest by millions of protesters against human rights abuses and corruption. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland discussed the geopolitical complications from Russia’s illegal referendum and annexation of Crimea, and stated that Russia's actions in Ukraine are an affront to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act. The United States' approach to the situation includes four pillars: bilateral and multilateral support for Ukraine's democratic future, the costs imposed on Russia for its aggressive actions, efforts to de-escalate the crisis diplomatically, and unwavering commitment to the security of NATO allies. The hearing also highlighted the work of the Commission’s delegation sent to monitor Ukraine’s May 25th elections.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Ukraine

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today announced the following hearing: Ukraine: Confronting Internal Challenges and External Threats Wednesday, April 9, 2014 10:00 am Room 215 Dirksen Senate Office Building Following the February 22 removal of the corrupt Yanukovych regime, the new interim government has been working to address numerous internal challenges, including badly needed economic and political reforms. This includes preparations for the May 25th presidential elections. At the same time, Russia continues to threaten Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity with further military intervention and attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the new government. The hearing will offer an assessment of the current situation in Ukraine as it addresses difficult internal challenges exacerbated by Russia’s seizure of Crimea as well as an assessment of ongoing threats and challenges to other countries in the region. The hearing will address current U.S. policy, and how the United States, together with the international community, including the EU and the OSCE, can best continue to assist Ukraine and deter further Russian aggression.  Scheduled to testify:  The Honorable Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State

  • Rep. Smith’s Support of the Ukraine Support Act

    Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of the Ukraine Support Act. I want to thank my friends and colleagues, Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel, for introducing this comprehensive legislation to support Ukraine in its urgent effort to meet its current crisis, including by building up its democratic institutions. Mr. Speaker, Russia's land grab in Crimea violates the core principles of several bilateral and multilateral agreements and treaties between Ukraine and Russia, the Budapest Memorandum, and the United Nations Charter, as well as the Helsinki Final Act. This legislation includes strong sanctions against Russians directly responsible for the aggression. H.R. 4278 also authorizes targeted sanctions against Ukrainians involved in undermining the democratic processes and provides assistance to the Ukrainian Government for identifying and recovering stolen assets. It is, after all, these criminal officials, including and especially Yanukovych and his cronies, who have so harmed the Ukrainian people and placed the country in the vulnerable position which Russia has exploited. Another key provision of the bill provides support for Ukraine's democracy and civil society; and I want to here recognize the importance of supporting, as well, the faith-based groups and organizations that played such a prominent role, particularly on the humanitarian side, in supporting the movement for democracy and the rule of law. The Ukrainian democracy movement is, in large part, a religious movement. Orthodox and Catholic clergy, for example, were prominent in the protests, and the drama of priests carrying icons confronting soldiers became as much a symbol of the democratization movement as anything else. And, again, when people were wounded and when people were being dragged away, it was the clergy that tried to step in to mitigate the violence against them. Let me also point out a Catholic News Service article that just hit the wire that points out that members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church are fleeing Crimea to escape threats of arrest and property seizures. Father Milchakovskyi, a parish rector in Crimea, said: "The situation remains very serious, and we don't know what will happen--the new government here is portraying us all as nationalists and extremists." The article also says: "Officials from Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB, had called him in for questioning about his community and to ask whether or not he “recognized the new order.”" He pointed out that one priest in particular was actually beaten by Russian forces. And, again, Members will recall, and I remember during the 1980s when I first came here, how so many within the church, including the orthodox church, were beaten and sent to the gulag because of their religious faith. This could be the harbinger of a new wave of repression against people of faith. The Ukrainian Catholic Church, by way of reminder, was one of those churches that was outlawed during Soviet times, and now we see the same kind of repetition of that kind of repression. This legislation is a clear step in the right direction. No piece of legislation will do it all. We have to appeal to the Russians to stop this, but, again, to cease their persecution of people in the Crimea.

  • Cardin Praises Bipartisan Unity in Support of Ukraine, Sanctions Against Russia

    WASHINGTON–U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission (CSCE), praised the full Senate passage of a package of loan guarantees for the new Ukraine government and economic sanctions on those responsible for the invasion of Crimea. “With today’s vote the Senate sent a clear message of solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and indignation for those responsible for the invasion of the Crimea. Russia must be held accountable for its blatant violations of international agreements. The sanctions leveled by Congress are intended to show that Mr. Putin’s inability to conform to international norms, and honor Russia’s agreements, will come at a heavy price. The government in Kyiv has the full support of United States and we will use all available diplomatic and economic tools to return stability to Ukraine,” said Senator Cardin. “I am disappointed that H.R 4152 does not include essential reforms that would strengthen the International Monetary Fund. Despite the omission this bill is a firm and confident step towards returning the region to normalcy. ”

  • Senator Cardin’s Floor Statement on Ukraine

    Mr. President, tomorrow we are going to have an opportunity to vote on S. 2124, and I am pleased to learn that it looks as if there is going to be overwhelming support in the Senate for the passage of S. 2124. This is the legislation that helps Ukraine in dealing with the invasion by Russia. Russia's illegal actions of using its military to overtake Crimea, a part of Ukraine, violate numerous international obligations that Russia has committed to. I have the honor of chairing the U.S. Helsinki Commission. The Helsinki Accords were entered into in 1975. Russia was one of the leading forces for forming the OSCE. Russia's taking over of Crimea violates its commitments it made under the Helsinki Final Act. It violates the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which was signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, and Russia, that guaranteed basically Ukraine's integrity of its land. It violates the 1997 Ukraine-Russia bilateral treaty. It violates the U.N. Charter. The list goes on and on and on. So I believe it is absolutely essential that we have a strong voice in standing with the people of Ukraine. There was absolutely no justification whatsoever for Russia's action. There was no threat to any of the ethnic communities in Ukraine. All the rights of the people were being protected. The country was in transition from a corrupt government to a government that respected the rights of its citizens. If there was any provocation whatsoever of any unrest, it was caused by Russia's presence in Ukraine. We got reports from the chief rabbi in Kyiv that Russia was staging anti-Semitic provocations in Crimea, and the list goes on and on as to what Russia was doing in order to try to give some justification for its actions. Russia's thinly veiled land grab, cloaked in the cloth of self-determination, must not go unchallenged. Here is what I think is critically important: This is a dangerous precedent. We saw Russia use a similar action in Georgia, and now in Crimea in Ukraine. There are other territorial issues involved around the world. If this goes unchecked, if we do not speak with a unified voice, it just encourages more irresponsible action by Russia in other countries. We know that we have concerns about the South China Sea. We know we have concerns about Moldova. There are many other areas where Russia could be involved in its border areas. So all of these issues are matters for us to speak with a strong unified voice. S. 2124 does that. It does it in two principal ways. First, it imposes the sanctions against those responsible for  Russia's invasion into Crimea, Ukraine. It provides sanctions so that these individuals are not permitted to come to the United States. There are economic sanctions in regard to the use of our banking system. These are similar sanctions to what are now being imposed by our European allies. We need to isolate Russia. As we all know, the G8, which included Russia, is now a G7 without Russia. Russia needs to know that there will be sanctions imposed, and they will be stronger sanctions unless they stop this aggressive action. In addition, the legislation provides economic assistance to the new Government of Ukraine. Just 2 weeks ago the Prime Minister of Ukraine was here and met with Members of the Senate. I tell you, it was inspirational to listen to his vision for Ukraine as a democratic, independent state, with full integration into Europe. That is important. He is preparing for a May 25 election for the Presidency of Ukraine. These are all very, very positive steps. But if Ukraine does not have the economic foothold to be able to develop the type of economy and strength in their country, it will be difficult for Ukraine to be maintained as a viable independent state. Here is where the United States and our European allies, and I hope the global community, come together, as we have in this legislation, to provide economic help on a restructured economic plan for Ukraine that will help them move forward in a very constructive way. Mr. President, I must tell you I am disappointed, though, that the reforms of the IMF will be eliminated from this legislation. I think that is regrettable. We are entering into a plan for Ukraine that very much depends upon the IMF's--the International Monetary Fund's--plan to make sure that the moneys we are spending, Europe is spending, and other countries are loaning and providing to Ukraine are based upon a sound economic plan that will work. That is why the IMF is there. And they will be there. But the United States needs to be a full participant in the IMF. We are out of compliance, and here is another opportunity lost for us to be in full compliance with the IMF. I am disappointed about that. But as I said as I took the floor, we must speak with one voice--the Obama administration; the House, the Senate; the Congress--as we stand with the people of Ukraine for their integrity, for their independence, and for the adherence to international principles, which Russia has clearly violated.

  • Cardin Welcomes Strong U.S. Action To Support Ukraine And Hold Accountable Those Who Have Victimized Its People

    WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission (CSCE), lauded approval Wednesday of a package of loan guarantees for the new Ukraine government and economic sanctions on those responsible for the invasion of Crimea and massive corruption in Ukraine. Shortly after the SFRC vote, Senator Cardin joined other members of the Committee for a meeting with Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. “Ukraine is an incredibly important country.  It is a priority to move swiftly on a bill that would support the new government in Kyiv, hold those who committed atrocities against the people of Ukraine accountable, and increase the effectiveness of the International Monetary Fund, which is the main vehicle for economic assistance to Ukraine,” said Senator Cardin. “The recent events are tragic, and they illustrate the consequences of pervasive government corruption. It is imperative that the United States and the international community stand united and mobilize to support Ukraine during this period of transition and instability. We need to help Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and the new leadership in Kyiv succeed without being beholden to Russia. We must also ensure that Russia understands that their attempt to take Crimea through brute force will have consequences. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is one of the most serious breaches of OSCE principles since the signing of Helsinki Final Act in 1975. These principles include the territorial integrity of states, inviolability of borders, and refraining from the threat or use of force. “Once again, Russia has proved the necessity of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, and the situation in Ukraine illustrates the value of expanding the bill to apply globally before another crisis arises. I look forward to working with Chairman Menendez and the full committee as we consider the Global Human Rights Accountability Act in the near future. In addition to the national security benefits, when enacted, this law will provide a consistent process for economic and travel sanctions that will be a deterrent to those individuals would consider committing gross violations of human rights in the future. Passage will make it clear to all countries that they must hold accountable those who would violate universal human rights.”

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