Ukraine: Confronting Internal Challenges and External Threats

Victoria Nuland
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Statement Before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission)
Washington, DC
April 9, 2014

As prepared

Thank you, Chairman Cardin and Co-Chairman Smith, for inviting me to testify before you today on the situation in Ukraine. It is a particular honor for me to do so before the U.S. Helsinki Commission, whose purpose is to advance security through the promotion of human rights, democracy and economic, environmental and military cooperation in the Euro-Atlantic Area.

Let me also express my gratitude for the leadership that Congress has shown with the overwhelming passage of the H.R. 4152 and S. 2183 in support of Ukraine. Not only did this legislation pass with strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, it was also backed by all 17 Commissioners of this body. That unity sent a strong signal that the United States stands united for Ukraine at this critical moment in its history.

For almost 40 years, the United States and this Commission have worked with our TransAtlantic Allies and partners to uphold the principles of the Helsinki Final Act. These founding principles are universal, and they include “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”; “the inviolability of frontiers”; “territorial integrity of states”; and “the peaceful settlement of disputes.”

Russia’s actions in Ukraine are an affront to each of these fundamental principles. Its occupation of Crimea, rubberstamped by an illegitimate referendum conducted at the barrel of a gun, have tarnished its credibility and diminished its international standing in the eyes of Ukrainians and the world. Reports of human rights abuses in Crimea since the Russian occupation have shocked the conscience. Last month, a Crimean Tatar activist protesting the Russian occupation of the peninsula was abducted, tortured and killed by pro-Russian irregulars. Russia has also attempted to intimidate Ukrainians by amassing more than 40 thousand troops and quick strike aircraft along the border, and with trade blockades and gas price hikes of 80 percent.

This week’s violent occupation of government buildings in Kharkhiv, Donetsk, Luhansk and Mariupol deepen our concern. Far from a spontaneous set of events, these incidents bear all the hallmarks of an orchestrated campaign of incitement, separatism and sabotage of the Ukrainian state, aided and abetted by the Russian security services.

So today Ukraine is a frontline state in the struggle for freedom and all the principles this commission holds dear. Ukraine is also replete with heroes in that struggle. It took guts for the Ukrainian people to stand up to a regime awash in unchecked cronyism, corruption and violence against its people. It took grit for tens of thousands of Ukrainians to spend weeks and months on the Maidan enduring subfreezing winter temperatures to demand dignity and a better future.

I think of Tetiana Chornovol, the investigative journalist and activist dedicated to exposing Yanukovich-era graft. She was savagely beaten by anti-Maidan thugs on Christmas Day. Today she serves as chief of the Anti-Corruption Bureau in the new government.

I think of Air Force Colonel Yuliy Mamchur, who led his troops to stand up to Russian forces when they came to take over Belbek airbase in Crimea. Together Mamchur and his forces sang the Ukrainian national hymn as Russian troops swarmed the base. The Russian military took him into custody for five days, trying to pressure him to defect. But his allegiance to Ukraine remained steadfast.

Today, the United States stands with Ukraine in its efforts to forge its own path forward to a freer, peaceful, and unified future. Our approach includes four pillars: first, our bilateral and multilateral support for Ukraine; second, the costs we are imposing on Russia for its aggressive actions; third, our efforts to deescalate the crisis diplomatically; and fourth, our unwavering commitment to the security of our NATO Allies who also live on the frontlines of this crisis. Let me address each of these briefly.

First, we support the Ukrainian people and the transitional government in the courageous steps they are taking to restore economic health, democratic choice and internal stability and security to the country. The Rada has passed landmark anti-corruption measures, deficit reduction measures and taken difficult steps to reform the energy sector. These necessary reforms will require painful sacrifices from all Ukrainians. But they also open the way to an IMF package of up to $18 billion in support.

The United States stands ready to help as the country addresses its immense challenges. Our $1 billion loan guarantee, in conjunction with IMF and EU assistance, will help implement these reforms and will cushion some of impact on the most vulnerable in Ukrainian society.

And we have approximately $92 million in FY 2013 State/USAID funding and an anticipated $86 million in FY 2014 State/USAID funding for assistance to Ukraine in areas such as strengthening anti-corruption enforcement efforts, revising public procurement legislation, introducing agriculture and energy sector reforms, deepening privatization efforts, improving the transparency and quality of higher education and helping Ukraine prepare for free, fair elections on May 25th.

And we are working with the international community to push back against Russian propaganda, lies and efforts to destabilize Ukraine’s regions. The OSCE has already deployed more than 70 monitors in ten locations throughout Ukraine as part of a special monitoring mission and the mandate allows the mission to grow to 500. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights will also play an essential role by sending 1000 observers for the Presidential election, one of its biggest missions ever.

Second, Russia is already paying a high price for its actions, and that cost will go up if its pressure on Ukraine does not abate. Across the board, Russia has found itself isolated. The United States along with all other G-7 members declined to attend the Sochi G-8 Summit and suspended participation in G-8 activities. Instead, the G-7 will meet in Brussels. On March 27th, the United States and 99 other countries in the UN General Assembly reaffirmed the unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders. Only 11 voted against. Along with our Allies, we have suspended practical cooperation between NATO and Russia. We have suspended most bilateral economic and military cooperation of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission. The President signed two Executive Orders authorizing sanctions against those responsible and finding that the actions and policies of the Russian government undermine democratic process and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets. These sanctions have been carefully coordinated with the EU and other global partners. And today we are considering further measures in response to Russia’s continued pressure on Ukraine.

And the financial markets are reacting. The ruble has fallen. Capital flight from Russia is at a high not seen in years. And Russia has been downgraded by major credit rating agencies on account of its actions.

These costs will only increase if Russia does not change course.

At the same time, we want to try to de-escalate the crisis. Secretary Kerry has met three times with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in recent weeks, with the support of the Ukrainian government at a time when Russia would not meet directly with Ukraine. Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Lavrov finally agreed to sit down in the next ten days with Ukraine, the EU and Secretary Kerry to discuss de-escalation, demobilization, support for elections and constitutional reform. Between now and then, we have made it clear that Russia needs to take concrete steps to disavow separatist actions in Eastern Ukraine, pull back its forces outside the country, and demonstrate that they are prepared to come to these discussions to do what is necessary to de-escalate. So Russia has a choice—to work with the international community to help build an independent Ukraine that can meet the hopes and aspirations of all Ukrainians, or they can face greater isolation and economic cost. We do not have high expectations, but it is important to keep the door open to a diplomatic solution.

Even as we try to de-escalate, with Russian troops ringing Ukraine for weeks now, we cannot be complacent about the security of our allies who live closest to Russia. Our message to Putin and Russia is clear: NATO territory is inviolable. We will defend every piece of it. And we are mounting a visible deterrent to Russia testing that proposition. In that vein, we and our NATO Allies are providing visible reassurance on land, sea and in the air to our Central and Eastern European members. The United States has increased our contribution to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission. We have bolstered the U.S.-Poland aviation detachment in Lask, Poland with 12 F-16s and 200 personnel. We extended the stay of one of our ships, the USS Truxtun in the Black Sea, and will send another ship there in the coming weeks. NATO is flying AWACS over Poland and Romania. And last week at NATO, Allies agreed to extend and expand these efforts.

More broadly, the events in Ukraine are a wake-up call for all of us. Everything we have stood for over 40 years as a community of free nations is at risk if we allow aggressive acts to go unchecked and unpunished. As a community, North Americans and Europeans must continue to stand with the people of Ukraine as they say no – “ni” in Ukrainian – to the tactics and brutality of the 19th century and yes—“tak” in Ukrainian – to a 21st century future that respects their sovereignty, their choice and their human dignity.

Thank you again for this invitation. I look forward to your questions.