Urging the Government of Ukraine to Ensure a Democratic, Transparent, and Fair Election Process for the Presidential Election on October 31, 2004

Urging the Government of Ukraine to Ensure a Democratic, Transparent, and Fair Election Process for the Presidential Election on October 31, 2004

Hon.
Ben N. Campbell
United States
Senate
108th Congress Congress
Second Session Session
Thursday, July 22, 2004

Mr. President, I rise to urge passage of S. Con. Res. 106, a bipartisan resolution calling upon the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent and fair election process for the presidential elections scheduled to be held in late October. This resolution, by encouraging fair, open and transparent elections, is a concrete expression of the commitment of the U.S. Congress to the Ukrainian people. The resolution underscores that an election process and the establishment of a genuinely democratic political system consistent with Ukraine's freely undertaken OSCE commitments is a prerequisite for Ukraine's full integration into the Western community of nations as an equal member, including into NATO. The October elections will be vital in determining Ukraine's course for years to come. They present the Ukrainian authorities with a real opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to OSCE principles and values.

As Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I would point out that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma recently cosigned a Declaration with Russia and leaders of several other independent former Soviet states criticizing the OSCE for focusing too much attention on human rights and democratization. While disappointing, this diatribe is not surprising given the fact that under President Kuchma's leadership, Ukraine's record in such as media freedoms, elections, the rule of law and corruption has moved in the wrong direction. It is up to the OSCE states, including Ukraine, to implement their freely undertaken OSCE commitments and to take corrective measures if necessary--something I hope the Ukrainian authorities will be mindful of in the run-up to the elections. Ukraine's pre-election environment has already been decidedly problematic and of great concern to the United States and the international community. The pending resolution, S. Con. Res. 106, focuses squarely on key problem areas, including increasing control and manipulation of the media and attempts by national authorities to limit access to international broadcasting, including Radio Liberty.

Among other concerns are the serious obstacles to free assembly and a free and fair political campaign as well as substantial irregularities in several recent elections, most notably, the mayoral election held in April in the western Ukrainian city of Mukacheve. This election was marred by intimidation, violence, fraud and manipulation of the vote count, electoral disruptions and irregularities. According to the most recent report of the nonpartisan Ukrainian nongovernmental Committee of Voters of Ukraine: There was no improvement in the political environment in June compared to April and May. Instead, CVU observed an increase in the number of cases of government pressure on the opposition designed to impede their activities. Potential candidates did not enjoy equal access to the media. The level of criminal interference in the pre-election process remains very high, thus threatening free elections. GPO's PDF S. Con Res. 106 outlines those measures the Ukrainian authorities need to take--consistent with their own laws and international agreements--for a free, fair, open and transparent election process. The Ukrainian authorities at all levels, including the executive, legislative and judicial branches, need to ensure an election process that enables all of the candidates to compete on a level playing field. This includes the various ministries and agencies involved directly or indirectly in the elections process, as well as Ukraine's courts. Ukraine's October presidential elections should be a watershed for the future direction of that country of great potential. Ukrainian authorities need to radically improve the election environment if there is to be hope for these elections to meet OSCE standards. By doing so, they will go a long way in restoring the trust of the citizens of Ukraine and strengthening Ukraine's independence and democracy. Mr. FRIST. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the resolution be agreed to, the preamble be agreed to, the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table, and that any statements relating to the resolution be printed in the Record.

S. Con. Res. 106

Whereas the establishment of a democratic, transparent, and fair election process for the 2004 presidential election in Ukraine and of a genuinely democratic political system are prerequisites for that country's full integration into the Western community of nations as an equal member, including into organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

Whereas the Government of Ukraine has accepted numerous specific commitments governing the conduct of elections as a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), including provisions of the Copenhagen Document;

Whereas the election on October 31, 2004, of Ukraine's next president will provide an unambiguous test of the extent of the Ukrainian authorities' commitment to implement these standards and build a democratic society based on free elections and the rule of law;

Whereas this election takes place against the backdrop of previous elections that did not fully meet international standards and of disturbing trends in the current pre-election environment;

Whereas it is the duty of government and public authorities at all levels to act in a manner consistent with all laws and regulations governing election procedures and to ensure free and fair elections throughout the entire country, including preventing activities aimed at undermining the free exercise of political rights;

Whereas a genuinely free and fair election requires a period of political campaigning conducted in an environment in which neither administrative action nor violence, intimidation, or detention hinder the parties, political associations, and the candidates from presenting their views and qualifications to the citizenry, including organizing supporters, conducting public meetings and events throughout the country, and enjoying unimpeded access to television, radio, print, and Internet media on a non-discriminatory basis;

Whereas a genuinely free and fair election requires that citizens be guaranteed the right and effective opportunity to exercise their civil and political rights, including the right to vote and the right to seek and acquire information upon which to make an informed vote, free from intimidation, undue influence, attempts at vote buying, threats of political retribution, or other forms of coercion by national or local authorities or others;

Whereas a genuinely free and fair election requires government and public authorities to ensure that candidates and political parties enjoy equal treatment before the law and that government resources are not employed to the advantage of individual candidates or political parties;

Whereas a genuinely free and fair election requires the full transparency of laws and regulations governing elections, multiparty representation on election commissions, and unobstructed access by candidates, political parties, and domestic and international observers to all election procedures, including voting and vote-counting in all areas of the country;

Whereas increasing control and manipulation of the media by national and local officials and others acting at their behest raise grave concerns regarding the commitment of the Ukrainian authorities to free and fair elections;

Whereas efforts by the national authorities to limit access to international broadcasting, including Radio Liberty and the Voice of America, represent an unacceptable infringement on the right of the Ukrainian people to independent information;

Whereas efforts by national and local officials and others acting at their behest to impose obstacles to free assembly, free speech, and a free and fair political campaign have taken place in Donetsk, Sumy, and elsewhere in Ukraine without condemnation or remedial action by the Ukrainian Government;

Whereas numerous substantial irregularities have taken place in recent Ukrainian parliamentary by-elections in the Donetsk region and in mayoral elections in Mukacheve, Romny, and Krasniy Luch; and Whereas the intimidation and violence during the April 18, 2004, mayoral election in Mukacheve, Ukraine, represent a deliberate attack on the democratic process: Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That Congress—

(1) acknowledges and welcomes the strong relationship formed between the United States and Ukraine since the restoration of Ukraine's independence in 1991;

(2) recognizes that a precondition for the full integration of Ukraine into the Western community of nations, including as an equal member in institutions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), is its establishment of a genuinely democratic political system;

(3) expresses its strong and continuing support for the efforts of the Ukrainian people to establish a full democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights in Ukraine;

(4) urges the Government of Ukraine to guarantee freedom of association and assembly, including the right of candidates, members of political parties, and others to freely assemble, to organize and conduct public events, and to exercise these and other rights free from intimidation or harassment by local or national officials or others acting at their behest;

(5) urges the Government of Ukraine to meet its Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) commitments on democratic elections and to address issues previously identified by the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the OSCE in its final reports on the 2002 parliamentary elections and the 1999 presidential elections, such as illegal interference by public authorities in the campaign and a high degree of bias in the media;

(6) urges the Ukrainian authorities to ensure—

  (A) the full transparency of election procedures before, during, and after the 2004 presidential elections;

(B) free access for Ukrainian and international election observers;

(C) multiparty representation on all election commissions;

(D) unimpeded access by all parties and candidates to print, radio, television, and Internet media on a non-discriminatory basis;

(E) freedom of candidates, members of opposition parties, and independent media organizations from intimidation or harassment by government officials at all levels via selective tax audits and other regulatory procedures, and in the case of media, license revocations and libel suits, among other measures;

(F) a transparent process for complaint and appeals through electoral commissions and within the court system that provides timely and effective remedies; and

(G) vigorous prosecution of any individual or organization responsible for violations of election laws or regulations, including the application of appropriate administrative or criminal penalties;

(7) further calls upon the Government of Ukraine to guarantee election monitors from the ODIHR, other participating States of the OSCE, Ukrainian political parties, candidates' representatives, nongovernmental organizations, and other private institutions and organizations, both foreign and domestic, unobstructed access to all aspects of the election process, including unimpeded access to public campaign events, candidates, news media, voting, and post-election tabulation of results and processing of election challenges and complaints; and

(8) pledges its enduring support and assistance to the Ukrainian people's establishment of a fully free and open democratic system, their creation of a prosperous free market economy, their establishment of a secure independence and freedom from coercion, and their country's assumption of its rightful place as a full and equal member of the Western community of democracies.

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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."

  • Russia's Assault on Ukraine and the International Order

    Russia’s Ukraine gambit is the most flagrant manifestation of the Kremlin’s assault on the international order. Moscow’s actions degrade the security environment in Europe and are a direct attack on settled international norms, including the territorial integrity of states and the self-determination of peoples affirmed in the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent agreements of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). On February 2, 2022, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a hearing on Russian aggression against Ukraine. The hearing included testimony from three expert witnesses on the motives and intentions of the Kremlin, how the West can continue to support Ukraine, and the ramifications of Putin’s belligerence for Europe and the international order. Helsinki Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) opened the hearing by highlighting the unity displayed between the United States and Europe in response to the threatened invasion. He commended the Biden administration on its efforts to enhance deterrence and reinforce NATO’s eastern flank, while ensuring a diplomatic path remains open to Russia should it wish to find areas of cooperation; he emphasized that the sovereignty of Ukraine and freedom of Europe would under no circumstance be bargained away. Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) noted that Putin considers Ukraine’s evolution into a budding democracy “with its open market of ideas, vibrant media, and a strong civil society” as a threat to his regime and repeated the importance of a free and sovereign Ukraine for the security of Europe. Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) highlighted Russia’s participation in the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, saying, “Putin is now treading underfoot the principles at the heart of the Commission’s work, principles agreed to by Mr. Putin’s predecessors in Moscow.” He also underlined importance of ensuring passage of defense appropriations to our defense commitments abroad. Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) praised the strong bipartisan stance exemplified by the hearing regarding the need to deter Russia; Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress, as well as Transatlantic allies, were “firmly united in support of the people of Ukraine” Dr. Fiona Hill, senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution, testified on Putin’s motives and likely worldview, citing Russian interventions in Georgia, Armenia, and Belarus. “From Russia’s perspective, the United States played no significant role in addressing these upheavals,” she said. She noted that the 2024 presidential elections likely are influencing Putin’s need to act now. Dr. Hill closed by emphasizing the importance of definitively countering Putin’s narrative regarding Russia’s aggressive posture. “We need to reframe this crisis for what it is, as the administration has just done in the United Nations,” she said. “This is not a proxy conflict. This is not aggression by the United States or NATO. This is not a righteous effort to counter some great historic wrong, as President Putin says. This is an act of post-colonial revisionism on the part of Russia.” Lieutenant General (Ret.) Ben Hodges, Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies at the Center for European Policy Analysis, testified on the current needs of the Ukrainian army, as well as potential countermeasures Ukraine’s Western partners can take to address Russian aggression. He highlighted President Zelensky’s request for funds to support a significantly larger Ukrainian army, as well as continued diplomatic support from the West. General Hodges also underlined that a common approach among NATO Allies, including and especially Germany, would be necessary to prevent a new Russian offensive. “We need to take the initiative instead of always reacting to whatever the Kremlin does. But we have to do this in unity with our allies,” he said. Lieutenant General Hodges closed by urging NATO to remain clear-eyed about the nature of diplomacy with the Kremlin. “They are not boy scouts. They use chemical weapons, poison and murder against their own opposition, and they use cyber and disinformation to destroy lives and trust in our democratic system,” he noted. “We should talk, but we need to understand with whom we are talking.” Ambassador (Ret.) William Taylor, Vice President, Russia and Europe at the United States Institute of Peace, commended the resolve and unity shown by President Biden and President Zelensky, suggesting that this had been surprising to the Kremlin. He surmised that the effectiveness of the Western response had, to date, successfully deterred a full-scale invasion and there was reason to believe that Putin currently remains engaged on a diplomatic track. Ambassador Taylor underlined the stakes in the current confrontation and their relevance to U.S. interests, describing Ukraine as “the frontline of the battle between democracy and autocracy. We should support them. With that support, they will prevail. Putin will lose.” Members raised a broad range of concerns with witnesses, questioning them on issues ranging from the influence of public opinion and oligarchs on Putin’s thinking, to the most efficient timing of sanctions. Witnesses were united in their praise for the bipartisan consensus on countering Russian aggression demonstrated by Congress, and adamant in their call for continued resolve and determination in the support of Ukraine. Related Information Witness Biographies Putin Has the U.S. Right Where He Wants It - Dr. Fiona Hill  NATO Must Help Ukraine Prepare for War - Lieutenant General (Ret.) Ben Hodges  After U.S.-Russia Talks, Risk of War in Ukraine Still High - Ambassador (Ret.) William B. Taylor

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