WASHINGTON—In a Senate floor speech, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs, today called on the Administration to produce a strong, clear, and coherent strategy on sanctions against Russia. Murphy voiced support for the Administration’s strategy in the region, and pushed for the next logical step in this policy: a clear message to Russia that if the May 25th elections in Ukraine do not occur in a free and fair manner, the United States will move forward with industry-wide sanctions on Russia.
Text of Senator Murphy’s speech as prepared for delivery:
One of the protagonists of Leo Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace is the iconic Russian general Mikail Kutuzov. Kutuzov was brought out of retirement to be the commander in chief of Russian forces during Napoleon’s invasion, and his unorthodox strategy confounded and frustrated his superiors and underlings alike.
He becomes convinced that Napoleon will lose the war by overextending his army. He believes that by playing the long game, he will exhaust and defeat the seemingly invincible, unstoppable French army.
Tolstoy creates a fictionalized version of Kutozov, of course, but one of the most famous passages from War and Peace is the following. Speaking of those who doubt his strategy, Kutuzov says:
“They must understand that we can only lose by taking the offensive. Patience and time are my warriors, my champions," thought Kutuzov. He knew that an apple should not be plucked while it is green. It will fall of itself when ripe, but if picked unripe the apple is spoiled, the tree is harmed, and your teeth are set on edge. Like an experienced sportsman he knew that the beast was wounded, and wounded as only the whole strength of Russia could have wounded it.”
Whether or not this famous Russian general ever shared this exact sentiment, it is representative of a time when the Russians, better than anyone on earth, knew how to play the long game.
How times have changed.
Mr. President, over the past few weeks, I have listened in agony to my Republican friends criticize the Obama Administration for having no coherent policy regarding the current crisis in Ukraine. I come to floor today to rebut that argument, and also, to add a few suggestions on how the Administration’s policy could be enhanced.
I certainly understand Republicans’ frustrations. News of the ongoing, daily drama in Ukraine dominates international news. Russia seems omnipresent, manipulating events on the ground by the hour. And there clearly has not been a proportional, pound for pound response from the United States or the collective West. This frustration is fed by memories of the Cold War – obsolete, even ancient, given how fast the world has changed since 1991. But the President’s critics, fueled by these largely irrelevant memories, insist that when Russia acts, we must meet fire with fire. Crippling, unilateral sanctions immediately. Lethal arms for the Ukrainian military. New missile capacity in Eastern Europe. The problem is, this is a strategy for 1964, not 2014. And moreover, there is no new money to pay for any of these programs.
Russia simply does not matter to us in the same way it used to. They are a secondary world power whose power is diminishing. Their demographics are catastrophic, their economy cannot survive the inevitable world energy revolution, and their endemic corruption will rot them from the inside out.
The invasions of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine are signs of Russian weakness, Russian insecurity, not Russian strength. Last fall, two former Russian Republics, Georgia and Moldova, refused Russian overtures to join their nascent economic union and inked preliminary agreements to join the European Union. Ukraine, at the last minute, bowed to Russian bullying and refused to ink the same deal, but it set off a series of events that pushed Russia’s man in Kiev out of office. In a panicked reaction, Russia invaded, and the consequences have been devastating. Russia’s economy is in freefall with $70 billion of capital leaving the country just in the first few month of this year. No major institutional investors will touch Russia today with a ten foot pole. To make matters worse, Russia has been kicked out of the G8 and has generally become an international pariah, not welcome at meetings of the major powers. Russia is increasingly isolated at the United Nations. And things will get even worse, as Europeans use this crisis as a wake-up call to move faster on plans to end their dependence on Russian energy and to reinvigorate NATO.
Kutozov goes on to say of his critics, "They want to run to see how they have wounded it. Wait and we shall see! Continual maneuvers, continual advances! What for? Only to distinguish themselves! As if fighting were fun. They are like children from whom one can't get any sensible account of what has happened because they all want to show how well they can fight. But that's not what is needed now.”
Now, the story of War and Peace, and the Russian French war, is of course not an entirely useful parallel to the current crisis in Ukraine, and the proper response of the United States. What is need now, is much more than patience and time.
But our response needs to be proportional to our nation’s national security interests, not proportional to Russia’s actions in their backyard. That is why the Administration is right to strongly support this new Ukrainian government, without overreacting in a way that could compromise our relationship with other nations or make the situation worse, not better, on the ground in Ukraine.
So let me lay out what a coherent, thoughtful approach to this crisis would look like, and how, in fact, the actions of the Obama Administration largely follow this outline.
First, as Ukrainian Prime Minister Arsenei Yatsenuk is quick to tell visiting dignitaries, the most important help the United States can provide is economic assistance, conditioned on necessary reforms, to show the Ukrainian people that a western-oriented government can deliver prosperity to the country. Russia has effectively invented a new form of warfare based on gradual provocation—where Putin uses psychological methods, intimidation, bribery, and propaganda to undermine resistance so that firepower is rarely needed to get his way. But these tactics only work on vulnerable countries, with weak economies and a susceptibility to Russian overtures of economic overlordship and corruption.
The best way to repel Russian provocations is to strengthen the Ukrainian economy and government institutions, both for the short and long run. The $1 billion loan guarantees authorized by Congress and the $17 billion dollar loan approved by the IMF and brokered by the United States, are an important part of that process, and the conditions imposed – which include a floating exchange rate, steep increases in gas tariffs, and budget reductions over the next several years -- represent some of the tough medicine needed to get Ukraine back on its feet.
The United States has not sat on the sidelines when it comes to economic aid to Ukraine. We have led from day one, and the results are impossible to deny.
Second, recognize what military assistance makes sense, and what military assistance doesn’t make sense. It makes sense to shore up our treaty obligations in Eastern and Central Europe by positioning more troops in places like the Baltics and Poland and Romania. Just in case the Russians were thinking of trying to use these types of destabilizing tactics inside a NATO nation, make them think twice. But remember that Ukraine is not a NATO ally – we have no obligation to defend their sovereignty, and it is totally unrealistic and indeed irresponsible to think that we can make up for decades of military neglect and mismanagement inside Ukraine with a few million dollars of aid today. Ukraine doesn’t need more small arms. Their problem isn’t that they don’t have them – their problem is that they don’t know how to shoot them. And there is no way the Ukrainians can effectively utilize more sophisticated weaponry like anti-tank or anti-aircraft artillery. The only way they could use it is with U.S. military advisors standing side by side with Ukrainians, and there is no appetite for the United States to commit personnel to a ground war in Ukraine. And I don’t care about the danger of provoking Russia with an influx of U.S. arms – Russia is going to do what Russia is going to do in Eastern Ukraine regardless of what small military investment the U.S. makes today in Ukraine. But I do worry that since any lethal assistance from the U.S. would have little to no effect on the ability of Ukraine to repel a Russian invasion, a Russian victory over the Ukrainian army, backed by U.S. weapons, would then be sold to the Russian public by Putin as a Russian military triumph over the United States. That’s a truly bad outcome.
But that should not stop us from more quickly delivering non-lethal support to help bolster the Ukrainian military in the short term. Reasonable support like body armor and communications equipment that balances our limited direct interests in Ukraine with our humanitarian interest in saving lives. There is a middle ground between sending MRE’s and sending tanks or AK-47’s, and we have had ample time to explore those options.
The Ukrainian military has played a pivotal role in recent events. It was likely the military’s refusal to heed Yanukovich’s request for a crackdown on the country’s own citizens that led him to flee to his Russian protectors in Moscow. And the presence of the Ukrainian military has no doubt given Putin pause about the casualties he would likely sustain if he attempted to send in even more of his forces to try to seize more territory illegally. Over the medium and longer term, we need to work with Ukraine to rebuild its military institutions that were neglected for so many years by leaders who were pilfering from the state rather than providing for the country’s defense forces.
Third, focus, focus, focus, on the May 25th elections. The Russians occupy dozens, not thousands, of buildings in Eastern Ukraine. They have no hold or influence on other sections of the country near and to the west of Kiev. As part of the international effort, the United States has committed millions of dollars and thousands of hours of manpower into making sure that the May 25th election is held in a free and fair manner.
The Russians will likely do everything within their power to stop this election from coming off. As of today, they effectively have no straw man in the race, and so more likely than not, the result will be a victory for a free, whole, sovereign Ukraine, and a damaging blow to Russia’s claims that Ukraine cannot govern itself. Our State Department representatives in Ukraine are working feverishly to help Ukraine conduct this election, and we have helped deploy unprecedented resources from the OSCE to make sure Russia cannot dislodge this election from occurring.
Fourth, let’s be crystal clear on what will lead to the next logical level of U.S. sanctions – industry-wide, sectoral sanctions against the Russian economy. We have moved deliberately so far because, wisely, President Obama has desired to move in relative concert with our European allies. But it is increasingly clear to me, and many others, that Europe is simply not prepared to move at the pace needed to send a strong message to Russia about the consequences of their continued aggression.
So, having primarily mounted a defense of the Administration’s policy in Ukraine so far, I would make one additional, significant, suggestion for amendment. I believe the highest levels of American foreign policy leadership, from the President to the Vice-President to the Secretary of State, should make it clear to Russia, right now, that if the May 25th elections do not occur in a free and fair manner, we will hold Russia, and only Russia, responsible, because if not for their interference, there can be no explanation for why these elections could not come off properly.
Further, we should make it clear that if the May 25th election is not allowed by Russia to be conducted according to OSCE electoral standards, the United States will immediately impose sectoral sanctions on the most important Russian industries, including, but not limited to, the Russian banking, energy, and raw materials sectors. Hopefully, significant Russian interference in the elections would prompt Europe to act with us, in order to protect our most important democratic values, but we can no longer wait for them. Let’s make it totally, completely, unequivocally clear today that if the May 25th election doesn’t occur in proper fashion, the United States will move toward industry level sanctions against Russia.
This is, and can be, a coherent, thoughtful U.S. strategy toward the crisis in Ukraine. Support Ukraine economically. Strengthen NATO. Don’t overreact with reckless military aid to the Ukrainians. Do everything possible to make the May 25th election a success. Be clearer than current policy on what will trigger sectoral sanctions by the United States, and then act if Russia doesn’t listen.
I know this is not all that my Republicans colleagues desire when it comes to U.S. policy toward Ukraine. But overreacting to this crisis is just as bad, if not worse, than doing nothing. I was in Kiev at the very beginning, standing on stage at the Maidan with Senator McCain, urging the Ukrainian people to demand more from their government. I was here, advocating for a robust U.S. response to support these protestors. I believed the United States should be playing an active role in this crisis and I was making this argument before anyone else in this chamber.
But this is not the Cold War. This is a fight in Russia’s backyard, and the cold hard reality is that the stakes here are just simply greater for Moscow than they are for us. The world is no longer organized around who is with the U.S. and who is with Russia. The foundational paradigms of global security now are about who has nuclear weapons and who doesn’t? Who is allied with the Shia and who is allied with the Sunni? Where are Islamist terrorists organizing and who is helping them? I don’t mean to say that unchecked Russian military action doesn’t have global consequences – it does. China, for instance, is certainly watching to see if nations pay a price when they reset their borders through aggression rather than diplomacy.
But we ultimately won the Cold War by playing the long game. We knew that if we held true to democratic and free market values, the world would notice that an alliance with us was far more beneficial than an alliance with Russia. That, in fact, is the very reason for the current crisis. The Ukrainian people revolted because they saw the value of a western economic and political orientation. We didn’t need to use intimidation or bribery or little green men. We just showed them that our stuff is better.
And of course, the irony is, that the Russians used to be the kings of the long game. Kutuzov let Napoleon march into Moscow after clearing out the city and leaving only 10,000 people behind. He strung out the French Army and left it ultimately helpless.
We don’t have to resort to the drastic tactics of this old, savvy Russian general. There are actions, that we can take, that we have taken, to support Ukraine and send a message to Russia. But we shouldn’t over inflate our national security interests in this crisis. We simply do not need to win every battle to win the war. And this body, the United States Senate, built by our founding fathers to see and play the long game for America, should understand this fact. We aren’t the Russians in 1804 – we must engage in a robust policy toward Ukraine that is much more than simply time and patience. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some important lessons to be learned.