WASHINGTON, D.C. —
During the past several months, the world has watched an unraveling situation among Ukraine, Russia and the peninsula of Crimea. The struggle reached a boiling point last month when protestors overthrew the corrupt leadership of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was collaborating with Russian President Vladimir Putin and intending to force greater ties between the two countries — in direct opposition to the majority of Ukrainians who prefer closer ties to the European Union. Because of this preference for westernized society and the value they place on their country’s membership in the EU, developing a close relationship was rightly viewed as dangerous for Ukraine, leading to indebtedness and dependence on Russia, especially for natural gas.
Putin doesn’t support the ideals of westernized culture, and his actions have shown that he is out to claim, destroy or bring down countries leaning or associated with the West. Back in December, in an attempt to strengthen ties to Ukraine through Yanukovych, Putin approved the Russian purchase of $15 billion in Ukrainian government bonds and just happened to lower the price of natural gas exports around the same time. Supposedly this was done with “no strings attached,” but considering that Ukraine heavily relies on natural gas as its source of energy, this purchase would indicate Putin’s intention to keep the country at his and Russia’s mercy.
Not too long after protestors seized the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and Yanukovych was voted out of power by the parliament, Putin approved military action in the region. Seeing himself as the protector of the “Russian world” (otherwise known as any Russian speakers) and justifying his actions with that sentiment, Putin violated Ukrainian sovereignty and sent Russian troops to invade Crimea, a peninsula off the coast of Ukraine. This Russian military occupation undoubtedly strongly persuaded or coerced officials in the Crimean peninsula to call a referendum on Sunday — resulting in residents voting to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. With rumors of ballot fixing and due to Russia’s presence in the area, the resulting vote of 97 percent in favor is suspicious.
Putin’s reasons for invading Crimea, along with his intention to annex the area to Russia, and sustaining Russian troops in and around Ukraine are not justified. Crimea belongs to Ukraine, which means its future should be determined by Ukraine. Sunday’s vote contradicts Ukrainian sovereignty and cannot be viewed as legal means for Russia to occupy Crimea. The situation must be viewed as a threat to the United States and our allies, requiring immediate show of strength, leadership and ability to stand up to Russia.
Putin cannot be allowed to act illegally and not feel real consequences. Following Sunday’s referendum, I am pleased that President Obama acted swiftly by announcing an executive order that places sanctions on several Russian officials, but there is still much that can and should be done to reinforce the strength of America and our allies. The West cannot stand idly by and allow Russia to gain control of Ukraine. Steps can and should be taken to isolate Russia and send a clear message that their aggression toward their European-aligned neighbor will not be tolerated.
In today’s changing geopolitical landscape, the strength of a country isn’t measured primarily by militaries anymore. Because world economies are now so intertwined, conflict between countries can wreak havoc on numerous economies.
Unfortunately, Putin senses weakness in America’s leadership, and now he’s waiting for other opportunities to strike. We must augment, implement or leverage the resources we have at our disposal in order to loosen Russia’s grip on Ukraine. Most specifically, the United States should be moved to utilize and expand production of natural gas in order to claim the role of primary supplier of that resource to Ukraine.
We must stand united with Ukraine, and it seems evident that Putin doesn’t think we have the strength to do that. In the coming days, there are real ways that we can reject Russia’s recent action. Currently, the G-8 Summit is scheduled to take place in Sochi, Russia, this June. Without question, the United States should not be in attendance, and other members of the G-8 (eight of the largest world economies) should unite to remove Russia’s membership in the group. Beyond expulsion of Russia from the G-8, the United States should band with allies to impose more sanctions on Russian companies, banks, individuals and assets — anything that would benefit or fuel the Russian economy.
Even though the United States isn’t being directly attacked by Russia yet, doing nothing when we have the ability to do something will be viewed as weakness and eventually make us the next target. As we keep a watchful eye on the situation, I hope that President Obama will recognize the opportunity to blunt Russian aggression and help diffuse conflict in the region, particularly by lifting bans on exports of U.S.-produced liquefied natural gas.
U.S. REP. TOM COLE, R-Moore, represents Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District.