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COMMUNITY VOICE

Given administration's tepid response to Russia, Congress must take lead

Friday, April 11, 2014 - 12:01 am

If Russia takes another bite out of Ukraine, it will be because the first one was so easy to digest.

All signs presently point to further Russian aggression that threatens incursions into eastern Ukraine and potentially beyond. Troops are positioned on the border, logistics for an invasion are arranged, and the Russian propaganda machine is ginning up the excuses needed to justify such action.

The lack of a forceful, effective response to the invasion of Ukraine by the Obama administration and Western leaders has given Russian President Vladimir Putin little reason to expect that further aggression will be punished more severely.

There are very few precedents in modern history in which a state so baldly and aggressively used force against a neighbor for the purpose of territorial acquisition. It is a crime from an earlier, more primitive age.

When the Soviet Union annexed the Baltic states, the world responded with 60 years of unwavering nonacceptance. When Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded and annexed Kuwait, the United States responded by deploying a half-million American troops.

But when Russia invades Ukraine and annexes a piece of a sovereign country, the response is to warn that there will be severe consequences – the next time. This reluctance is paving the way for further Russian aggression in Ukraine and possibly other countries.

Our best European friends are following President Obama’s lead in downplaying the importance of the invasion that has already taken place. In fact, the question can be asked: Who is leading whom?

Given this leadership vacuum, I am convinced that Congress must act. Issues involving recognition of foreign sovereignty are normally the purview of the executive branch, but there are examples of Congress taking the lead in the past. Given the administration’s tepid response, Congress must do so again.

In addition to previous measures I have brought before the Senate, I have introduced the Crimea Annexation Non-Recognition Act, which would ensure that the United States does not recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea or take any action that would imply such recognition. A policy of non-recognition will communicate the seriousness of this situation and help reassure our allies and friends precariously placed on Russia’s borders that Putin must stop his aggression.

My proposal would also prohibit the United States from financing or guaranteeing investments in Crimea with Russia as an intermediary and restrict foreign aid to countries that recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea.

As Russian troops gear up for another land grab, the most urgent task is to ensure that the United States and the international community do not accept the illegal annexation of Crimea – what Putin hopes already is a fait accompli.

Unfortunately, the words and actions of this administration and of many of our European allies continue to focus on threatening consequences for future Russian incursions, rather than for the aggression that has already taken place.

Appeasement is a word heavily loaded with the burden of history in Europe. To invoke it haphazardly can lead to exaggerated and distorted conclusions.

But it is difficult to describe in any other way what we and our allies have done in response to Russia’s invasion of a neighbor’s territory.

U.S. Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) wrote this for Politico.com magazine.