Washington D.C. – House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith made the following at today’s hearing on Russia:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I would also like to thank our witnesses for appearing here today. Admiral Pandolfe, good to see you again. Assistant Secretary Chollet, also a pleasure to see you back here.
Before I get started, I would like to welcome a new member to our committee – Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, of Hawaii. Representative Gabbard is filling the seat left by the retirement of our colleague, Rob Andrews. I am sure we all welcome her here and look forward to working with her.
President Putin’s recent actions to take control of, and then formally annex, part of the sovereign territory of Ukraine present a direct challenge to the post Cold War system that we, our European allies, and the members of the former Soviet Union built. The action to illegally seize the territory of another state, by military force, undermines international law, presents a terrible precedent for other nations, and violates Russia’s own treaty obligations.
The Administration tried, to its credit, to reach out to Russia and encourage them to participate in this post Cold War regime. Russia, in Putin’s first terms and under then-President Medvedvev, even took some halting steps to cooperate with the United States and Europe in building a shared path forward. Some criticized the Administration for this effort, pointing to the 2008 war in Georgia during the last Administration as a reason to not try to engage Russia. But engagement with Russia was always a better course than confrontation, if Russia reciprocated.
Unfortunately, and due solely to the decisions of one man, President Putin, Russia has chosen another course.
I do not believe that Russia will find this course of action to be in their best interests in either the long or the short term. Russia faces uncertain economic prospects with a declining and aging population. Taking actions that lead to greater degrees of economic and diplomatic isolation will not correct this. There are those who believe that Russia’s intent was to coerce Ukraine and other former Soviet nations into joining Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union rather than the European Union. But seizing Crimea will almost certainly undermine this end—Ukraine possesses the largest economy of any of these countries and would certainly seem to be much less likely to join a Russian-dominated economic union than it was a few months ago.
The Administration has imposed a number of sanctions on Russian and Ukrainian officials and Russian banks, suspended military-to-military contacts, and, with other allies, suspended Russia’s membership in the G-8 organization of the most important economies in the world. Europe has taken similar actions. We have also deployed air assets to Europe to assist in patrolling the airspace of our NATO allies and taken a number of other steps to beef up our military presence in Europe.
All of these steps are good. But these steps are not likely to cause Russia to leave Crimea in the near term, if at all. If we are serious about that goal, we are going to have to think seriously, with our European allies, about next steps. Neither I nor any other member here believes that the United States should engage in a military conflict with Russia over the Ukraine. Nor do we want a new Cold War, and, to be clear, I do not believe that is where we are headed. But we do need to make sure that we have postured ourselves to reassure our NATO allies that we will stand with them if required. And we need to think seriously and strategically about the implications of the annexation of Ukrainian territory on the international law regime that we, the Europeans, and many other countries developed to delegitimize wars of conquest. I hope our witnesses can help us with these challenges today.
Thank you Mr. Chairman, I yield back.