Congress Doubles Down On Ukraine

by Dish Staff

The “Ukraine Freedom Support Act”, authorizing both lethal and non-lethal aid to Kiev in its ongoing conflict with pro-Russian separatists, passed both houses of Congress late last week to little fanfare:

The current legislation authorizes $350 million worth of weapons, defense equipment and training for Ukraine over three years. Lawmakers dropped a key provision in the original bill that would have taken the rare step of giving major non-NATO ally status to Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Senate aides said the provision was removed at the 11th hour in order to ensure final passage.

The measure hits Russia’s defense and energy sectors, punishing companies like state defense import-export company Rosoboronexport. It requires Obama to impose conditional sanctions on the defense sector should Russian state-controlled firms sell or transfer military equipment to Syria, or to entities in Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova without the consent of the governments in those nations. The rule is aimed at helping stem the flow of weapons from Russia across the border into eastern Ukraine, where Washington and Kiev accuse Moscow of fomenting separatist unrest.

The bill does not require Obama to provide lethal aid, however, and the White House has no plans to do so – at least, not yet. Russia, predictably, lashed out in response to the bill, which it called “openly confrontational” and akin to blackmail. Emma Ashford calls it counterproductive:

Arming Ukraine will escalate tensions with Russia, but it will do little to help the Ukrainian army – which is corrupt and in dire need of reform – to combat the insurgency in its Eastern regions. The bill ties the hands of diplomats, requiring that Russia ceases “ordering, controlling… directing, supporting or financing” any acts or groups which undermine Ukrainian sovereignty before sanctions can be lifted. The INF treaty stipulation [directing the President to hold Russia accountable for its violations of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty] is also dangerous, raising tensions, and increasing the possibility that both Russia and the U.S. could withdraw from the treaty.

Unfortunately, the provisions in this bill will make it all the more difficult to find a negotiated settlement to the Ukraine crisis, or to find a way to salvage any form of productive U.S.-Russia relationship. No wonder congress didn’t want to debate it openly.

Larison agrees:

As it is, the passage of this legislation was the wrong thing for Congress to do. If Obama doesn’t want to contribute to making things worse in Ukraine, he should veto it. Signing such a bill into law will just goad Russia into more aggressive behavior and will set up the Ukrainian government for another fall. There is no American interest that justifies this contribution to the conflict in Ukraine. It is an unfortunate marriage of the desire to be seen as “doing something” and the knee-jerk impulse to throw weapons at every problem.

Doug Bandow fears that the bill “offers a belligerent foretaste of what to expect from the incoming Republican Senate”:

The legislation’s chief sponsor was Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), slated to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His earlier proposal, “The Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014,” was even more confrontational, providing for greater sanctions on Russia, more military aid for Ukraine, and intelligence sharing with Kiev; conferring “major non-NATO ally status” on Georgia and Moldova as well as Ukraine; expanding “training, assistance and defense cooperation” with Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, and Serbia, as well as Kiev; mandating non-recognition of Russian annexation of Crimea; and subsidizing energy development in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. As chairman he is likely to encourage equally misguided military meddling elsewhere.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, meanwhile, announced the first 24-hour period without a casualty since a ceasefire went into effect in early September. According to a new UN report, 4,707 people have been killed in the fighting, including 1,357 since the ceasefire was agreed.