U.S. Must Alter Approach, Hold Russia Accountable for Activities Which Threaten U.S. National Security Interests in Middle East

Jun 15, 2017

U.S. Must Alter Approach, Hold Russia Accountable for Activities Which Threaten U.S. National Security Interests in Middle East

“Putin’s support for Assad has guaranteed that the conflict will continue and that tens of thousands more will die…his alliance with Iran has given Tehran the tools to one day become a nuclear power”

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, made the following statement at a subcommittee hearing entitled, “Russia’s Strategic Objectives in the Middle East and North Africa.” Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

“For far too long, the United States has acted timidly in the face of increased Russian aggression, unwilling to confront Putin for fear of provoking a confrontation, even though Putin, like other tyrants, only respond to a position of strength. And it isn’t just the Executive Branch – Congress has played its role too.

For years, administrations have been offering concessions to Russia and Congress has allowed this to happen. The Bush administration presented a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement – a 1,2,3 agreement – to Congress, despite concerns Russia was then providing Iran with nuclear technology and providing Syria with advanced conventional weapons in violation of the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act. In fact, the Bush administration had sanctioned state-owned Russian entities for Iran-related violations. I led the effort then to block that agreement. President Bush withdrew the proposed nuclear accord, but only after Russia invaded Georgia. That didn’t stop the Obama administration from falling into the same trap – officially submitting the U.S.- Russia nuclear cooperation agreement to Congress in 2010 despite overwhelming evidence of Russian involvement in Iran’s nuclear and conventional weapons program and Congressional efforts to strengthen sanctions against Iran.

Russia repeatedly acted as interference for Iran at the UN, protecting it from scrutiny and increased sanctions, all the while itself violating U.S. sanctions against the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism. Yet we failed to hold Russia accountable – in fact, as part of the Obama administration “reset,” the U.S. lifted several sanctions against Russia, including sanctions against arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, which admitted it was shipping advanced missile defense systems to Syria.

In 2010, the administration agreed to sign over the control of Uranium One, the U.S. uranium processing facility to the Russian government – again, despite overwhelming national security concerns. As then Ranking Member of this Committee, I spearheaded a letter alongside the Ranking Members of the House Financial Services, Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, urging the Treasury Secretary to oppose this move.

Another consequence of ignoring Russia’s malign behavior was the decision to overturn the Jackson-Vanik amendment, paving the way for Russia to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) and granting Putin permanent normal trade relations. This was part of the deal with the devil in order to get the Magnitsky Act signed into law – and though we managed to get that signed into law, the previous administration failed to use its authorities to sanction Russia’s worst human rights violators.

So where are we now – we’ve established a long history of failing to use the tools the United States has available to it in order to hold Putin and the Russian regime accountable. Putin’s support for Assad has guaranteed that the conflict will continue and that tens of thousands more will die. His alliance with Iran has given Tehran the tools it needs to one day become a nuclear power with strong conventional arms – including advanced missile defense capabilities.

He is bolstering General Haftar in Libya, making it almost certain that no progress toward reconciliation will be made there in the near future. Reports indicate that Russia may be deploying troops or possibly wanting to set up a base at the border of Libya and Egypt.  Putin is ensuring that Russia ties itself to the energy and military sectors of many countries in the region, giving him leverage and influence in countries that have viewed us with mistrust since the Arab Spring and the Iran nuclear deal.

Russia is not our ally – not in Syria, not in Iran, not on human rights issues. We should not be afraid to push Putin back – he is a strongman, and tyrants like him only respond to strength, not just perceived strength, but actual strength. Russia is fragile, and this show of force is just that – a show by Putin.

It is time for the United States to reclaim its leadership role on the global stage, and particularly in the Middle East and with respect to Russia. Yesterday, the Senate passed an amendment to an Iran sanctions bill that included Russia sanctions. And while I support efforts to hold Russia accountable for its cyber activities and its activities related to Crimea, I hope this can be the first step toward a more holistic approach to holding Russia accountable for its activities which threaten U.S. national security interests and global peace and security.”