Examining Efforts to Eradicate Human Trafficking

Examining Efforts to Eradicate Human Trafficking

Hon.
Christopher H. Smith
United States
House of Representatives
109th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Sunday, July 10, 2005

Mr. Speaker, May 12, 2005, I chaired a Capitol Hill briefing, “Sex Trafficking in Eastern Europe: Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine,” conducted for the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. The Caucus heard testimony from a number of excellent witnesses regarding current efforts in Eastern Europe to combat human trafficking for forced economic or sexual exploitation. 

Since the late 1990s, I have worked to eradicate trafficking in the United States and around the world. As Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and as Special Representative on Human Trafficking for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), I have given particular attention to the situation in the 55 OSCE participating States, which include source, transit and destination countries for victims of trafficking, such as Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine, The United States has been a solid supporter of the OSCE's role in generating the political will--and programmatic responses--necessary to stop trafficking in Europe and Eurasia. 

Among those briefing the Congressional Human Rights Caucus was Michele Clark, Head of the OSCE's Anti-Trafficking Assistance Unit in Vienna, Austria, and previously Co-Director of The Protection Project at Johns Hopkins University. Ms. Clark is a dedicated and knowledgeable anti-trafficking advocate. Her recognized expertise on human trafficking issues led to her appointment at the OSCE in which she is now at the forefront of the anti-trafficking movement in Europe. 

Mr. Speaker, I ask that Ms. Clark's prepared statement from the briefing be printed in the Congressional Record. Her statement was both visionary and practical and challenges all of us--Members of Congress and representatives of governments alike--to take bold, definitive steps to eradicate modem day slavery. Ms. Clark's statement also encourages us, and I believe rightly so, to evaluate carefully whether our current programs and strategies are effectively meeting that challenge. 

TESTIMONY OF MICHELE A. CLARK, HEAD, ANTI-TRAFFICKING ASSISTANCE UNIT, ORGANIZATION FOR SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE: SEX TRAFFICKING IN EASTERN EUROPE: MOLDOVA, UKRAINE, BELARUS 


I am Michele Clark, Head of the Anti-Trafficking Assistance Unit at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna, Austria. The OSCE has a long history of combating all forms of human trafficking, including trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation as well as forced and bonded labor within the framework of prevention, prosecution and protection. A unique characteristic of the OSCE's Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings is the recognition of human trafficking as a complex, multidimensional issue with far reaching security implications. Consequently, the Action Plan enjoins all of the OSCE institutions and structures, including the Strategic Police Matters Unit and the Office of the Coordinator for Economic and Environmental Activities, as well as the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, to work together toward combating trafficking in human beings. 

I appreciate the opportunity to address you today on the status of Trafficking in Human Beings in Eastern Europe with a focus on the countries of Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine. I would like to thank you, members of the Human Rights Caucus, for your sustained commitment to this noble cause and for keeping informed of the most current issues, trends and challenges. The OSCE looks forward to being of assistance to you in any way we can, and to continuing our good work together. 

The movement to Combat Trafficking in Persons is poised to become one of the most significant human rights movements in the past two hundred years, but it isn't there yet. I say this very carefully. For, notwithstanding the central position that human trafficking has occupied on the world stage for the past five years, the tragic, graphic stories by print and broadcast media, the high level of political visibility and, last but far from least, the hundreds of millions of dollars and Euros made available by donor countries, trafficking in human beings is in fact a growth industry. Obviously, this statement begs the question, “Why?” I would like to devote the bulk of my testimony today to providing some thoughts that might prove beneficial to policy makers as well as practitioners as we all attempt to “get it right.” I would like to begin with a real-life story. Mariana and Jana 

A year and a half ago, I went to Moldova. Although I went there to participate in an international conference, one of my personal goals was to visit with a family I had only heard about, but wanted very much to meet. Four months earlier, the eldest daughter, a beautiful young woman in her early twenties and herself the mother of a three-year-old daughter, tragically killed herself, by hanging in the country where she had been trafficked, abused, finally imprisoned as she waited to participate in the prosecution of her traffickers. I do not apply the word, "rescue" to such circumstances. She worked with the law enforcement officials of that country and her testimony resulted in a conviction and stiff sentence. The only option available to her, at the end of the legal proceedings, was return to her country, and for that she was asked to pay $80 for her travel documents. Return to what, however? A job that would pay about 30 dollars a month? A home without a father, because hers was absent 8 months of the year, a migrant worker in Western European countries, trying to make money to send home? For her daughter, a life with prospects not much different than her own? Rather than return to a future with no hope, Mariana as I will call her now, ended her own life. 

Her body was flown to Moldova, where she was buried. An international organization there as well as an NGO in the destination country contributed to the transport of the body and to the funeral costs. I went to see her mother, younger sister Jana, and her daughter Victoria. We spent many hours together over several days, but the family did not want to talk about Mariana--although everyone knew what had happened to her. The stigma of Mariana's life as a trafficked woman was a great burden for the family. Coupled with the suicide, it was too much to bear. There were no visible pictures of her in the home but I finally asked to see photos. The mother warmed to us then and for a few moments we all wept together as women and as friends. All except for little Victoria who continued to express anger that her mother came home in a box and that she was not allowed to see her. 

In particular, I was deeply moved by the younger sister, Jana, and became concerned for her future. Blonde (as much as it pains me, there is a stereotype), bright-eyed and quite lovely, she asked eagerly about life in the United States and wondered if I could help her get there. I thought, how easily swayed she would be by anyone who offered her a situation similar to her sister's. For weeks her image would not leave me and I made some inquiries, unwilling to accept that her plight had to be the same as her sister's. Was there in fact no hope for her? I learned that a year of university would cost about $USD 500; she would then need money for supplies and fees, and income to supplement the money she was making in a candy factory. I engaged with a social worker there, part of a large organization that assisted trafficked women. I asked them, what could happen, and what were the options? It took a long time to get answers, because the social workers have very little capacity to assist victims, or potential victims, to find long-term solutions, the focus being primarily on emergency care. Finally I was told that Jana could be sent to hairdressing school, and that she would receive assistance with job placement after she left. However, there was no money, not even the small sum $800 that would take care of all costs. Together with a few friends, we paid for Jana to go to school, and learn a trade. I was deeply disappointed at how few options were available and by the lack of attention to the long term. Parenthetically, I must say how exasperated I get when I hear that vocational training for trafficked women consists of beauty school. This is certainly a fine trade, but how many beauticians can small countries support? Another important fact is that many of these women are intelligent and resourceful, and would do well in business or any of the other professions. 

To summarize this story, I would like to quote my colleague Antonia DeMeo, who is the Human Rights and Senior Anti-Trafficking officer at the OSCE Mission to Moldova: "If the economic situation in Moldova would improve, then I believe that the trafficking problem would decrease. People are looking for work and money, and better opportunities for the future, and will take significant risks to get them. [While working in the Balkans] I saw numerous asylum and residency petitions filed by Moldovans and none of them wanted to return to Moldova. Why? Because they saw no future there. You can provide them with all the counseling you want--it will not solve the problem of creating a viable future."

Characteristics of Countries of Origin 

Today we are talking about three different countries: Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine. I would like to identify common elements among each of these countries in an effort to assist our policy and programmatic initiatives. 

These three countries are among the top ten countries of origin for trafficking for prostitution in the world, according to a United Nations report dated May 2003. It is interesting here to note that these countries have all undertaken serious efforts towards legislative reform to address trafficking in human beings. Laws alone do not stop trafficking, although they are a necessary place to start. 

These countries share many of the same routes, and many of the same countries of destination, including but not limited to Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Czech Republic, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Greece, France, Finland, the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland and the United States. 

These countries are primarily countries of origin for women trafficked for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. However, recent studies of trafficking patterns in these countries indicate new trends, notably trafficking of children (boys and girls), trafficking for labor, and the development of local sex tourism. This particular trend is very unsettling. The sex tourism is a by-product of coveted commercial development necessary to the betterment of the collapsing economic infrastructures. 

Numbers of trafficked persons are very difficult to come by, with most information being provided by countries of destination. Victim identification remains inadequate. 

Most trafficked persons return to the same conditions which initially compelled them to seek employment elsewhere. The hardship is compounded, however, by the fact that they are often stigmatized as a result of their trafficking experiences. Furthermore, criminal status that ensues from being considered an illegal immigrant, or being in possession of fraudulent documentation further marginalizes these women and shuts them out of the formal economy. 

Overall, there is a lack of protection and re-integration programs for returning trafficked persons. Most programs provide short term assistance only and are not equipped to provide long-term support to trafficked persons. Failure in identification of trafficked persons and the subsequent dearth of long-term assistance appear to be factors which contribute to re-trafficking. 

Each country has experienced a period of great political instability. Challenges to Combating Trafficking in Human Beings 

I believe that both countries of origin and of destination have a responsibility for providing protection and assistance to victims of trafficking, for the plight of women like Mariana, and to ensure that Jana, and even Victoria, will be able to contemplate a future with options and possibilities, much in the way all of us in this room approach the future. 

In countries of origin, root causes need to be considered. These run very deep, and comprise social and economic push factors that drive women to seek employment overseas, including the absence of alternatives, the social stigma that leaves trafficked persons marginalized, and the on-going need to provide financial assistance to their families. It is also necessary to consider wide-spread corruption, the lack of a human rights approach, mistrust towards the police and judiciary, the absence of a tradition to resolve issues through court procedures, lack of co-operation between the State and the civil society, widely spread distrust towards NGOs as foreign agents and representatives of political opposition, inadequate funding for the implementation of anti-trafficking programs and projects, lack of co-operation with countries of destination. This list goes on. 

Countries of destination, on the other hand,--and this includes us--will have to concretely recognize that they create the demand which encourages human trafficking and enables organized criminal groups to generate billions of dollars annually in tax-free revenue at the cost of human misery. Furthermore, countries of destination need to develop humane and compassionate approaches to victim identification, victim protection, and long-term victim assistance. Successful reintegration begins at the country of destination. 

After making this distinction, I personally believe that it is no longer adequate to talk about solutions, policies and practices directed exclusively towards countries of origin and destination, for these countries are in fact linked by very complex relationships that include financial institutions, border and immigration police, law enforcement, the tourist and transportation industry, and other equally significant commercial and professional enterprises. To address only a country of origin without looking at where the reward comes from for criminal activity is an incomplete approach, and will therefore yield incomplete results. Regional approaches to combating trafficking in persons, linking countries of destination and origin, have the best potential for arriving at comprehensive and systemic solutions. 

In addition to the challenge of complex political and commercial relationships mentioned above, I would like to talk briefly about the great challenge of victim identification, underscoring why there is such urgency in addressing this topic. From 1 January 2000 to 31 December, 2004, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other nongovernmental organizations assisted 1,464 trafficking victims to return to Moldova, and this number includes 81 minors. In 2004, one destination country alone documented repatriation of 1,774 Moldovan women. These women were listed as illegal immigrants; however, human rights groups in this country attest that the majority of Moldovan women who are arrested for violations of immigration laws are victims of trafficking. Similar discrepancies can be found among the other countries we are talking about. In one year, one country reported more Moldovan women than other reports claim were helped in five years. These discrepancies require our serious consideration. Why the discrepancy? What needs to be changed in order for women to seek out assistance? Are the right groups providing the assistance so that trafficked persons feel protected? Is the assistance appropriate to the need? Policy Implications 

Here I would like to ask two more questions: 

(1) What about the present? Are we really making progress? If trafficking, as all indicators tell us, is in fact a growth industry, then what do we not know? What are we getting wrong? What in fact is the real impact of anti-trafficking funding? 

(2) What about the future? Are our current efforts helping to lay a foundation that will enable prevention, protection and prosecution to continue after donor funds have decreased? 

I am particularly concerned about the need to think about investing in the creation of sustainable grass roots initiatives as opposed to reactive project development. The question of funding is of particular concern to me right now. Wealthy nations have responded generously both by making funds available and by elevating this issue to one of high political visibility. But let us be realistic. History shows us that in time, another world crisis will capture world attention as well as money, even though human trafficking itself will not disappear. Will there be organizations, movements, trained personnel in rural communities, small towns and big cities who will be able continue to pressure their governments and work to assist individuals? 

Let us look again at Moldova. This small country with a population of barely 4 million people is now receiving between $USD 10M-12M over several years to combat trafficking in persons. Here are some questions we need to think about, not only for Moldova, but for all countries receiving large amounts of external assistance. 

To what extent are these funds actually reaching trafficked persons or developing grass roots capacity? 

To what extent are these funds being invested to ensure sustainable anti-trafficking initiatives? 

To what extent is there coordination among donors to ensure that there are no duplicated efforts? 

Who is around the table at these coordinating meetings? Are the right partners present in order to make sure that these efforts are able to continue into the future, long after grant money has decreased? 

Are the faith communities involved? It is well known at this time that faith communities have the capacity to reach trafficked persons which are normally outside of the grasp of other organizations; this comes from the fact that they are closely linked to the communities and have the trust of the local populations--including the trust of trafficked persons.

 

 Recommendations 


1. Coordinate initiatives of major donors to ensure that there will be no duplication of efforts, and that there will be monitoring of grant activities. 

Make sure that grants provide for a broad representation of local NGOs. 

Make sure that funded projects ensure provision of benefits directly to individuals and to the empowerment of small local NGOs. Many budgets give only token amounts to local initiatives while having large budgets for travel and foreign consultants. This is the time to develop the grass roots work force. 

Develop existing capacity and cultivate potential/future capacity. Are there sufficiently trained service professionals? Do countries' economic development plans foresee the training of new members of the work force taken from returning trafficked persons? 

Develop a long-term perspective to finding long-term solutions rather than only addressing immediate needs. 

Give priority to programs that work towards social inclusion--the forgotten stepchild of the anti-trafficking movement. Make reintegration a long-term policy. 

Members of the Human Rights Caucus, I will end where I began, challenging us to consider that we could be part of the greatest human rights movement of the past two hundred years, with a legacy of freedom, redemption and hope that will serve as a model for generations to come. Do we have the courage, the discipline, and the wisdom to make it happen? May it be so. Thank you.

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  • Helsinki Commission Digital Digest February 2022

  • Co-Chairman Cohen Leads Bipartisan Congressional Delegation to Defend Democracy and Ukrainian Sovereignty at OSCE PA Winter Meeting

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) last week led a bipartisan Congressional delegation to the Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) in Vienna, Austria, which focused almost exclusively on responding to the full-scale Russian assault on Ukraine.  A sizable and active U.S. presence at the hybrid event helped generate nearly united condemnation of the Kremlin attack and provided assurance of the U.S. commitment to European security during a time of great uncertainty. “Our bipartisan delegation actively and adamantly defended Ukraine’s rights as a sovereign nation in the face of unchecked Russian aggression,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “The European security architecture that has supported peace and prosperity on the continent and around the world for decades must not be allowed to crumble at the whim of a dictator with grandiose aspirations of returning to some imagined past glory. It is long past time that democratic nations—including all other OSCE participating States—unite to firmly put Putin back where he belongs: isolated and outside the bounds of international society.” Other members of Congress traveling to Vienna included Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Commissioners Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), and Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33), as well as Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18). Remote participants in the Winter Meeting included Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04). Although the meeting included a wide range of OSCE issues of concern, Russia’s brazen invasion of Ukraine dominated all discussion.  “Fundamental underpinnings of our security order, including commitments to respect other countries’ territorial integrity, sovereignty, and choices of security alliances, are at this moment being breached, flagrantly and deliberately, by one of our participating States, which is—as we speak—conducting an unprovoked invasion of another participating State,” said Rep. Hudson, who chairs the OSCE PA General Committee on Political Affairs and Security. “If Vladimir Putin succeeds in Ukraine, he will not stop there—just as he did not stop with Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea, and the Donbass. How can any of us realistically believe he will stop with Ukraine?” asked Sen. Wicker, who serves as a vice-president of the OSCE PA. “According to Putin’s twisted rationale, every former republic of the USSR is at risk. NATO is at risk. Every member of the peace-loving international community is at risk of being swept up into this conflict.” Members of the U.S. delegation directly challenged the egregious assertions of the few Russian delegates who attempted to justify their country’s naked aggression. Other issues raised by the U.S. delegation included human rights violations within Russia, as well as in Belarus and in areas of Ukraine under illegal occupation; ongoing concerns regarding human trafficking; and the assault on free media throughout the OSCE region.  Ahead of the Winter Meeting, members of the in-person delegation traveled to Lithuania to underscore U.S. support for a crucial NATO Ally at a time of deep concern caused by Russian aggression. In Vilnius, they met with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, and senior members of the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) to discuss the Russian assault on Ukraine, the deterioration of regional security, and Lithuania’s values-based foreign policy, including relations with China. The delegation also visited the Pabrade Training Area for briefings on U.S. and Allied military activities conducted in the region, and met with Belarusians and Russians who have fled to Lithuania to avoid persecution, including Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and other opposition leaders, members of the business community, civil society organizations, and the media.

  • Co-Chairman Cohen Discusses European Unity Against Russia

    Mr. Speaker, last week, I led a bipartisan group to visit Lithuania and the OSCE meeting in Vienna, Austria. In Lithuania, we met with the leaders and assured them of America’s Article 5 responsibilities and commitments in case Russia comes into Lithuania. They are very concerned. We met with our troops, who are 6 kilometers away from Russian troops stationed in Belarus. We then went to the OSCE in Vienna, and we led a strong response to support Ukraine and oppose an unbelievable invasion by the cruel Vladimir Putin. The European community is united, except for Russia and Belarus, in opposing the intrusion. Vladimir Putin is not operating in a rational manner. His KGB history and his extreme response to COVID have driven him to a delusional, paranoid, and dangerous state. It concerns all. I appreciate the actions of our President in supporting our country. I support President Zelensky, who is the Maccabee of his era, but the candle has only lasted so long. We need to get him more oil.

  • Lawmakers strike bipartisan note to condemn Putin, call for more sanctions

    In a show of unity, Republican and Democratic lawmakers swiftly condemned Russia’s military attack against Ukraine and vowed to inflict economic pain on President Vladimir Putin by imposing a torrent of punishing new sanctions. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said she wants Russia cut off from the SWIFT international banking system. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called on international law enforcement to target Putin and his allies by seizing their “lavish apartments, fine art, yachts” and other items.  And Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said the U.S. must continue to send financial support and arms to Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia.  “Today’s invasion of Ukraine by Russia is a premeditated and flagrant act of war,” said Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. “These are not the actions of a proud nation and people, but the actions of a desperate man whose only desire is to sow chaos in order to make himself look strong.” His Democratic counterpart, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez of New Jersey, said Putin’s “unprovoked attack” has underscored the need to blacklist the Russian president and “expel the current Kremlin leadership from the international community.” “Today must mark a historical shift in how the world views and deals with the despot in Moscow,” Menendez said. The flurry of statements and tweets from Capitol Hill came moments after Putin declared Thursday local time in a national televised address that Russia was launching a military operation to support the “demilitarization and denazification” of eastern Ukraine. Explosions could be heard in cities across the country, including in the capital of Kyiv, where emergency sirens sounded. For the most part, Democrats and Republicans struck a bipartisan note, pressing Biden to go further in sanctioning Russia but reserving their fury for Putin. “Following news of Putin’s further invasion of Ukraine with enormous concern and anger,” tweeted Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, typically a vocal critic of Biden. “The US will stand with our Ukrainian allies, continue to provide them with arms to defend themselves, and work to counter Putin and hold accountable those responsible for this aggression.” Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., who tweeted that he was attending a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, said he was "listening to Russian lies about their support of Ukrainian people." He questioned how Putin could claim that he wants to "de-Nazify" Ukraine when the country's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is Jewish. "Putin is a wild dog and won’t stop at Ukraine. Hitler didn’t stop at the Sudetenland. Learn from history!" Cohen tweeted. "The United States and all NATO must immediately provide as much military support as possible to the Baltic countries, to Poland, and other allies at risk." And the top Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence committees also took direct aim at Putin. “The last few hours have laid bare for the world to witness the true evil that is Vladimir Putin. …” Reps. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said in a joint statement. “Every drop of Ukrainian and Russian blood spilled in this conflict is on Putin’s hands, and his alone.” Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., tweeted, "Russia has just become a pariah nation. Everything short of involving US forces should be done to punish this action. This should be unrelenting." Yet there were a handful of Republicans who placed the blame for the Russian attack at Biden’s feet. “Joe Biden has shown nothing but weakness and indecision,” said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who’s considered a possible 2024 presidential candidate. “Now is the time to show strong purpose. Sanction Russia’s energy sector — the engine of its economy — to its knees and reopen American energy production full throttle.” Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., a former ambassador to Japan, tweeted that Biden's strategy to prevent a war had failed. "Despite Ukrainian President Zelensky’s persistent call for pre-invasion sanctions, the Biden Administration chose to do nothing until it was too late and must now change course," he wrote. In a statement, Biden said Putin had “chosen a premeditated war” and vowed to unilaterally impose another round of crippling sanctions on Russia on Thursday, just two days after he had targeted Putin with an initial tranche of sanctions. But any congressional action on sanctions will have to wait until at least next week when both House and Senate lawmakers return from their Presidents Day recess.  In the meantime, top Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, are planning to hold an unclassified phone briefing for senators Thursday on the developments in Ukraine.  That will be followed by a separate briefing for House lawmakers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats have been comparing Putin’s military incursion to Adolf Hitler’s military advance during World War II, the last time there was a major war in Europe.  “This is a momentous and tragic day when once again we see a dictator in Europe try to remake the map of Europe by using its military power,” House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said on MSNBC’s “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.”

  • Russian attack was consistent with US intelligence forecast, US senators say

    US senators have said the unfolding attack in Ukraine is in line with intelligence briefings they received about what to expect from a Russian invasion. In a series of tweets, Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that Russia was launching a “full scale and comprehensive military assault throughout Ukraine.” The attack involved “airborne and amphibious landings, missile strikes from air, ground and naval forces, electronic and cyber attacks and a large ground force to occupy a large swarth of territory," Rubio said. He added that Russian airborne forces are also working to “take control of the airport in Kyiv (so) they can fly in forces to occupy the (capital) city." A source familiar with the matter said the tweets were based on US intelligence being shared with Intelligence Committee members. Congress briefed on attack: As the Russian attack escalated late Wednesday, Sen. Mark Warner, the Senate Intelligence chairman, and Rep. Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, spoke with CIA Director William Burns, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Sen. Ben Cardin, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN that senators would be briefed on the invasion by the White House Thursday. “A lot of what we’re seeing happening in regards to the apparent air attacks on the defense infrastructure of Ukraine is all part of what was expected we would see,” Cardin said. “There is no justification for it. I can tell you there’ll be strong bipartisan support in the United States Senate and Congress for the strongest possible reaction by the United States and our allies.”   

  • Biden lays out harsh sanctions on Russia after Putin invades Ukraine

    As Moscow initiated a full-scale military assault on Ukraine early Thursday morning, launching airstrikes and artillery at military installations across the country and sending troops into major cities, officials in Washington rushed to determine how best to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin. ​​”Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. Now he and his country will bear the consequences,” President Biden said Thursday, noting that the sanctions had been designed to maximize the long-term impact on Russia’s economy. Biden announced new limitations on what can be exported to Russia, “blocks” on four additional Russian banks, including state-owned banks VTB and Sberbank, and further sanctions on Russian elites. The sanctions also target the children of Nikolai Patrushev, an intelligence official with close ties to Putin, and Igor Sechin, head of the Russian oil company Rosneft. Despite weeks of negotiations, members of Congress failed to come up with a bipartisan sanctions package in the month leading up to Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said Thursday that they would support robust sanctions proposed by the White House and are calling for more comprehensive sanctions legislation when Congress returns next week. “The United States and our allies must now totally isolate Russia from the global economy. This includes sanctions on all Russian oligarchs—those who actually hold Putin’s cash—and Russia’s financial and energy sectors, as well as the removal of Russian institutions from the SWIFT system,” Sen. Ben Cardin told National Journal. The U.S., the European Union, and the United Kingdom issued sanctions against Russia earlier this week following Moscow’s recognition of the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, two regions in Eastern Ukraine that Russian proxy forces have controlled for the past eight years. Experts noted that the European Union’s sanctions were much tougher than many expected, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was slammed for failing to issue robust sanctions measures. Washington’s preliminary sanctions package was deemed limited but effective, as Biden left ample room to issue more-crippling sanctions as the situation escalates. “What we’re seeing is the EU is tougher than the U.S.,” said Anders Aslund, an economist specializing in the Russian economy. “The British sanctions were a joke. The EU and the U.S. were working in concert, and Boris Johnson was clowning around.” The U.S. on Tuesday sanctioned two Russian state-owned financial institutions, VEB, a bank described as Putin’s slush fund, and Promsvyazbank, an institution primarily used by Russia’s military. VEB has an office in New York that will be forced to close. Washington also slapped sanctions on three individuals tied to Putin’s inner circle—Denis Bortnikov, Peter Fradkov, and Vladimir Kiriyenko—and placed restrictions on Russia’s sovereign debt. Meanwhile, Biden announced he would lift the White House’s waivers on sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. That controversial energy project would have brought Russian natural gas directly into Germany, bypassing Ukraine. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle applauded the president’s decision. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who had previously resisted making public statements about the pipeline, said German regulators would not certify the project. That move will cost Russia billions of dollars. The European Union sanctioned hundreds of individuals, including Russia’s defense minister and the 351 Russian parliamentarians who voted to recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk. Brussels also targeted several people associated with Russian state-owned media, including RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, a move Washington is not expected to replicate due to the U.S. deference to First Amendment rights. These individuals are now subject to asset freezes and visa bans in Europe. Neither the U.S. nor the EU issued export controls in the first round of sanctions, however. The international community has several options when it comes to sanctioning Russia. One of these is to sanction specific financial institutions operated by people close to Putin, like Gazprombank, Sberbank, and Alfa Bank—which were all targeted Thursday. Another is to issue export controls on items such as semiconductors, which would cut Russia off from Western technology used for military development, and luxury goods. “We’re going to stunt the ability to finance and grow the Russian military. ... We’re going to impair their ability to compete in the high-tech 21st-century economy,” Biden said Thursday. Targeting more individuals close to Putin, or even Putin himself, is also on the table. Sanctions targeting specific sectors of the economy, like energy or metals, and the oligarchs who run those industries could also be painful for Russia. Still, they risk producing a blowback effect on Western economies. Experts expect the U.S. and its allies will continue to ramp up sanctions as events on the ground unfold. But decoupling Russia from the global economy will be difficult. “I think given how severe this invasion is, they’ll start with a pretty high-level implementation to begin with and leave themselves some room to maneuver,” said Fritz Lodge, a principal with the Scowcroft Group specializing in international economic policy. “But Russia is not Iran. This is the 11th-largest economy in the world," Lodge added. "It’s deeply connected to the rest of the global economy. It’s a major commodities exporter—not just energy, but it is also the largest wheat exporter in the world and a significant exporter of fertilizers, chemicals, and industrial additives. There will be painful side effects for European economies and the U.S. with these sanctions.” Russia, furthermore, has amassed significant foreign-exchange reserves estimated to be worth a little over $600 billion and has already reduced its reliance on foreign investment. Both moves will insulate Russia from international sanctions for at least a few months. “You can think of Putin as a geopolitical doomsday prepper,” Lodge said. “If he’s taking these actions, then he’s priced in the fact that it would incur these sanctions.” Many experts have called into question whether sanctions have the power to change Putin’s calculus. International sanctions issued in response to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula failed to stop the country from intimidating and ultimately attacking its neighbor, and made only a small dent in Putin’s popularity. Often, the impact of sanctions takes a long time to materialize, experts note. “Sanctions are not a magic bullet,” said Daniel Fried, who was the State Department’s sanctions coordinator when Russia seized Crimea in 2014. “Sanctions can work, but the timeline for them working might mean that the Ukrainian people suffer horribly. We often overestimate what we can achieve in the short run and underestimate what we can achieve in the longer run. But the Ukrainians are living in the window of short-term war. ” Still, Aslund noted that Putin has frequently expressed displeasure when people close to him are sanctioned, arguing that prohibitions on Russians spending money in Europe amount to human-rights violations. “He’s very sensitive, really a bleeding heart when it comes to his friends,” Aslund said.

  • Helsinki Commission Condemns Large-Scale Kremlin Invasion of Ukraine

    WASHINGTON—Following what appears to be a large-scale Kremlin invasion of Ukraine, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “We are outraged that Russia’s Vladimir Putin has chosen to dramatically escalate his war against Ukraine.  These are not the actions of a powerful leader, but a despot seeking to deny Ukrainians the peace and freedom he has denied his own people. “We demand Russia immediately cease its brutal and criminal invasion and adhere to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act.  We urge the entire world—including the people of Russia—to stand with the people of Ukraine in this moment of darkness.” On February 24, the military of the Russian Federation launched large-scale, unprovoked, and illegal armed attacks against the sovereign nation of Ukraine. According to the most recent credible reports, Russian airstrikes are being launched across Ukraine, and military forces as well as Belarusian and rebel proxies are attacking Ukrainians across multiple fronts.

  • Helsinki Commission Denounces Move by Putin to Declare Donetsk and Luhansk Regions of Eastern Ukraine “Independent”

    WASHINGTON—Following Russia’s recognition of parts of Ukraine as “independent,” and the announcement that Russian armed forces would be deployed to protect them, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) denounced the move and issued the following joint statement: “Putin’s latest unilateral move against Ukraine further violates Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, the most basic principles of international law, and Russia’s commitments under the Helsinki Final Act.  We are deeply concerned about the escalation these steps represent in Russia’s war on Ukraine and call on Moscow to immediately cease hostilities against its peaceful neighbor.  “The United States and our allies will not tolerate this unprovoked aggression against an independent and democratic state. Our support for Ukraine remains unwavering and our response to Putin’s violent revisionism must be resolute. Imposing sanctions and reinforcing our military deterrent in frontline NATO states are essential. “We applaud the decision of the German government to halt further steps on the certification of Nord Stream 2 pipeline. We urge the entire world to support the people of Ukraine and to oppose this attack on peace and security in Europe.” On February 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a unilateral recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine as “independent,” as well as the deployment of Russian forces to those regions. Meanwhile, Russian ground troops arrayed in multiple locations on Ukraine’s borders appear poised for further action.

  • Bipartisan Delegation Led by Co-Chairman Cohen Condemns Illegal Recognition of Moscow-Backed Rebel Territories In Ukraine

    VIENNA—In response to the Russian Federation’s illegal recognition of Moscow-backed rebel territories in Ukraine and continued military escalations, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Commissioner and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly First Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), Commissioner Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee for Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, issued the following statement: “As a bipartisan delegation, we stand unified in condemnation of Putin’s aggressive actions, and we applaud the unified stance shown by the United States and our Allies in responding to the Kremlin’s reckless actions. “Putin has once again flagrantly and violently breached international law, interstate norms, and the principles and its obligations under the Helsinki Final Act. We condemn the Kremlin’s cynical and ahistorical move against Ukrainian territorial integrity and see it for what it is: an attack against a sovereign Ukraine, against Europe, and an assault on the same European security architecture that has supported peace and prosperity on the continent and around the world, including Russia, for decades. “Putin’s latest move appears to presage a major military escalation against Ukraine, and a wider attack on Europe’s peace. We condemn the Kremlin’s outrageous and violent agenda, and we and our NATO Allies will not accept its occupations anywhere in Ukraine, in Georgia and Moldova, or its soft annexation of Belarus. “We just visited Vilnius to confer with our close Allies who are at the front lines of the Kremlin’s aggression and malign influence. Lithuania’s principled foreign policy is a model for the United States and the entire world. But those principles and our common values must be defended against attack.  “In response, Russia will soon feel the first effects of sanctions imposed by the United States with our friends and allies around the globe. Any further aggression should and will be met with additional and increasingly severe economic penalties. Putin need not further compound this catastrophe of its own making. “During this dangerous time, we stand with our NATO Allies and we believe the time is right to continue to reinforce our Alliance and emphasize our unity with additional American troops on the ground.” On February 21, Russian President Putin announced a unilateral recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine as “independent,” as well as the deployment of Russian forces to those regions. Meanwhile, Russian ground troops arrayed in multiple locations on Ukraine’s borders appear poised for further action.

  • 'Putin will pay a very, very, very heavy price' if he invades Ukraine further

    Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) sits down with Yahoo Finance Live to talk about past geopolitical aggressions from Russian President Vladimir Putin, carefully applying sanctions on Russia, the energy sector, additional COVID-19 relief funds, inflation, and the federal gas tax. Video Transcript AKIKO FUJITA: Well, we are continuing to follow the latest developments from the Russia-Ukraine border. Several reports of increased shelling there with pro-Russian rebels ordering the evacuation of civilians. Amid those heightened tensions, President Biden is expected to speak this afternoon at 4:00 PM Eastern after he holds a call with NATO allies. And of course, we're going to bring that to you live right here on Yahoo Finance. Let's bring in Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, who's also on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, it's good to talk to you today. I think a lot of people trying to make sense of the headlines that we've gotten this week. Is diplomacy going to take its course? Is Russia-- is a Russian invasion of Ukraine inevitable? Talk to me about what you're hearing and what your biggest concerns are. BEN CARDIN: Well, first, it's good to be with you. Look, the circumstances are extremely dangerous right now. When you take a look at what Mr. Putin has done, the provocative actions he just recently took in Eastern Ukraine, the number of troops that he has on the border fully prepared to do a full incursion into Ukraine, and his past history, what he did in Georgia, what he's done-- this is part of his playbook, to use misinformation and to use everything he possibly can to bring down a country. And he wants to bring down an independent Ukraine. So it's a very, very dangerous situation. What will come next, only Mr. Putin knows. We certainly will not give up on diplomacy if Mr. Putin wants a diplomatic answer. But to now, every indication is that he is determined to use force to bring down the Ukrainian government. AKIKO FUJITA: You and your colleagues in the Senate have called for sanctions or increased sanctions against Russia. And I realize Republican senators have put forward their own sanctions as well. To what extent can these sanctions really have teeth in curtailing Vladimir Putin from scaling back some of those ambitions you just highlighted? BEN CARDIN: Well, to be clear, Democrats, Republicans, House and Senate, are fully behind President Biden and our European allies to make it clear that Mr. Putin will pay a very, very, very heavy price if he does further incursions into Ukraine. There's no dispute about that. We are fully behind the president in that regard. There's many of us who think that Mr. Putin already deserves to have additional sanctions imposed, but that would also, we think, give the president some additional leverage in his conversations with Mr. Putin. But that's more of a strategy issue, rather than our resolve that do everything we can to prevent the incursion. If it happens, the president will have our full support to impose the most serious sanctions, both on sectorial economy, as well as individuals. AKIKO FUJITA: We had your colleague, Senator Jon Tester, on earlier this week, who said, look, I'm all for sanctions, but we also need to be mindful of the economic impact this could have on our allies over in Europe, specifically on energy. How do you view that? Especially if we're talking about something like Nord Stream 2, I mean, number one, what power does the US have in halting that? And how do you think about the consequences for a country like Germany if that is halted, especially given their reliance on natural gas coming in from Russia? BEN CARDIN: Well, Senator Tester is mentioning some important points. But our number one priority is the security of Europe. And if Mr. Putin can overtake a sovereign country by the use of force without consequences, that does not bode well for the future security of Europe or other parts of the world by the use of force to try to change borders. That will have a much more devastating impact on future economies as well as the safety of Europe. So that has to be our primary concern. These sanctions on the energy sector, particularly, we need to long-term have a more secure Europe on energy sources. We know that. But in the short-term, we have to make sure that energy is not used as a weapon, as Mr. Putin is trying to do. That only will lead to bad results. So for all these reasons, we have to stay resolved and resolute in our force to say that we will impose the heaviest possible sanctions if there are further incursions into Russia. AKIKO FUJITA: Let's talk about more domestic issues. You have been, for some time here, calling for additional funds here to combat COVID-19. I know there was a request in from the Health and Human Services Department that called for $30 billion in additional funds. Given how much was spent on this most recent wave for Omicron, where do those discussions stand right now? And how are you thinking about that, number one, in terms of additional budgets that are needed on the health care side to fight the virus, and then the amount of money that could potentially go to small businesses that are still hurting in a big way? BEN CARDIN: Well, we have some unfunded programs now that need to be completely funded. And that is the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. We made certain commitments. The money, it was not adequate. We need to replenish those funds. That should be done as soon as possible. I hope we can get it done in early March. In regards to additional COVID needs, there's clearly a need in our health resources to make sure that we can stay ahead of the next variant. And there's likely to be another variant. So we have to have the funds necessary to do all of the preparation, including vaccination preparations, the therapeutic drugs, protective equipment, testing. All that will require additional resources. And as they're needed, we have to make those resources available. And then we hope we're at near the end of the tunnel in regards to this COVID point, the impact it has on our economy. But if it continues, then we have to be prepared again to step forward, as we did in the past, to make sure that our economy can continue even during a pandemic. AKIKO FUJITA: You talk about the challenges in the economy. Certainly a lot of Americans feeling the pinch from price pressures and inflation now hitting a 40-year high. That has certainly hurt this administration, at least, in the eye of the public. And I wonder where you stand especially on a potential holiday on the federal gas tax. That's something that has been raised by other Democratic lawmakers. The cynical take would be to what extent that can really bring down prices and how much of this is motivated politically. Where do you stand on that? And should there be a bit of a reprieve, given how far up gas taxes have run? BEN CARDIN: Well, I understand that we have to deal with the short-term pressures that American families are sustaining, so I recognize that. But the deal with the causes for inflation, we really do need to deal with the labor force to have more people able to work. And that means in the Build Back Better agenda, affordable child care is critically important. We've got to protect our supply chains as one of the principal reasons why we seeing a shortage of goods, and therefore an increase in price. And that means pass the legislation that is passed by both the House and Senate that needs to be reconciled that would make America more products produced here in our own country. They are the two things I think we can do the most to protect against the impact of higher costs. But we recognize that American families are hurting, and that's why we want to deal with more affordable housing, more affordable educational costs. We want to deal with the cost centers that are affecting American families. AKIKO FUJITA: Specifically on the federal gas tax, though, would you support a suspension? BEN CARDIN: Well, it depends. We have to make sure that there's adequate resources to carry out our infrastructure and our transportation programs. It's not just as simple as a holiday. It's a question of how we're going to adequately fund the needs that are critically important. You know, the transit needs, the road needs, broadband, all these are important services that the American people need, and we have to make sure we can continue to carry out those programs. AKIKO FUJITA: Well, Senator Ben Cardin, we always enjoy having you on the show. I hope to have you back on again soon. Maryland Senator Ben Cardin there joining us today from Baltimore. Coming up, existing home sales--

  • Ahead of OSCE PA Winter Meeting, Co-Chairman Cohen Reiterates Support for Ukrainian Sovereignty

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) today issued the following statement: “Over the upcoming Congressional recess, I am proud to be leading a bipartisan, bicameral delegation to the Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. In today’s climate of global uncertainty, engagement between foreign officials and members of Congress offers reassurance to U.S. allies about the commitment of the United States to peace, security, and prosperity in Europe and beyond. “Our delegation also will take the opportunity to visit other NATO Allies to consult with government officials in light of the unprecedented number of Russian forces deployed in and around Ukraine. While we originally planned to stop in Kyiv, the relocation of embassy staff necessitated the unfortunate cancellation of that portion of our itinerary. However, I would like to take this opportunity to reassure the Government of Ukraine of the steadfast support of Congress for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression. Rest assured we will bring up support for your nation’s security at the OSCE PA meetings.”

  • Chairman Cardin Discusses Russian Aggression on Balance of Power

    On February 16, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) spoke about Russian aggression toward Ukraine with David Westin on Bloomberg's Balance of Power. "You cannot believe anything that Mr. Putin says," he said. "We understand what he is saying for public relations purposes, but to date we have not seen any major withdrawal of troops from the border. Russia did everything necessary to start an invasion. The troops are lined up; the so support personnel are there. So, we are still at a very high-tension level. Obviously, we would do everything we can on the diplomatic front, so that we could avoid what Russia is doing, but they need to have an off ramp and we don’t know whether Mr. Putin wants an off ramp or not."

  • Sen. Cardin details possible Russia sanctions, says Putin will pay ‘very heavy price' if he invades Ukraine

    Watch the latest video at foxnews.com Russia will face the "strongest possible" sanctions if they invade Ukraine, in the form of heavy economic and political consequences, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin said Sunday. Cardin, D-Md., appeared on "Fox News Sunday" to discuss what the possible sanctions against Russia could look like in a "strong bi-partisan effort" that he said is almost complete and has the support of President Biden. "We hope to show Mr. Putin that Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and the House, and that the White House, are united," Cardin said. "That if he does do further incursions into Ukraine he will pay a very, very, very heavy price from the economic point of view and the isolation politically." Cardin said that the possible sanctions will include both financial and personal consequences for Russia’s current aggressive activity outside the Ukraine border. U.S. officials have said Moscow has assembled at least 70 percent of the military firepower it likely intends to have in place for a full-scale invasion. The sanctions would affect Putin personally, the Russian economy, and the financing of Putin’s activities, Cardin said. The senator added that other individuals affected would include those who use the international banking system to finance Putin’s political agenda. "These are gripping sanctions that will have an impact on the bad actors and the Russian economy in general because it is financing through corruption Putin’s political agenda," Cardin said. Leaders have given few hard details to the public, however, arguing it is best to keep Putin guessing. Cutting Russia off from international banking would be one of the toughest financial steps the U.S. and its European allies could take. The move could cut Russia off from its international profits from oil and gas production, which account for more than 40% of the country’s revenue. One tactic the U.S. has previously used is sanctioning the immediate circles of leaders, their families, and military and civilian circles.  Putin and his friends and family could face that as well, along with Russia’s powerful business oligarchs and its banks. That includes Putin’s family and a woman reported to be Putin’s romantic interest, Alina Kabaeva, who won Olympic gold in 2004 in rhythmic gymnastics. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

  • Ambassador (Ret.) William B. Taylor: 'I believe Putin will blink'

    At a February 3 Helsinki Commission hearing on Russian aggression toward Ukraine, William B. Taylor, an expert on Russia and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told Commissioners,  "I believe President Putin will blink. I think Presidents Biden and Zelensky are staring him down successfully. Putin appears, for now, to be seeking negotiations. He has complained about but has not rejected the responses from the United States and NATO to his demands."

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