The Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee spent Labor Day weekend in Kiev, where he called upon President Obama to start assisting Ukraine with much-needed military aid.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) met with presidents and other top officials in a swing through Estonia, Poland and Ukraine.
In Ukraine on Saturday, he issued a letter to Obama advising the president that now is the time to lead European allies in a robust response against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression.
“With Putin’s second invasion of Ukraine, now is the time for the United States to act with our European partners to counter Russia’s irridentist goals by providing weapons to allow Ukrainians to defend themselves, as well as additional support and training to the Ukrainian military, and to impose further sectoral sanctions to isolate Russia. This is a logical succession to what the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed in March of this year and which you signed into law,” Menendez wrote.
The chairman says he has “serious concerns” that at this week’s NATO summit in Wales there will be efforts “to limit NATO’s options to protect our Eastern European allies and to be able to respond to current and future threats to NATO states.”
“I commend your recent decisions to increase U.S. troop levels to approximately 300 in Poland and the involvement of the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne in the Baltic Air Patrol. Those actions have been extremely well received by our allies, as tangible measures of NATO resolve and commitment but will largely be undercut should the NATO-Russia Founding Act be reaffirmed at next week’s Summit.”
Obama travels to Estonia today and will fly to Wales on Wednesday night for the Thursday summit, which will focus on Afghanistan and then Ukraine. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry will join Obama at the summit.
“While the United States and NATO stand by their commitments, our interpretation of the Founding Act must be consistent with our core obligations to NATO states and consider Russia’s blatant disregard of its commitments to NATO and the international community,” Menendez wrote. “To unilaterally reaffirm an agreement in the face of a breach of the same agreement by Russia makes no national security or foreign policy sense; could limit future flexibility and readiness to respond to security threats against NATO states; and suggests a unilateral retreat in the face of the most serious threat to security and stability in Europe faced by NATO since the end of the Cold War.”
The Founding Act states that “NATO and Russia will cooperate to prevent any possibility of returning to a Europe of division and confrontation and will seek the widest possible cooperation amongst the participating states of the OSCE with the aim of creating in Europe a common space of security and stability without dividing lines or spheres of influence limiting the sovereignty of any state.”
It further requires NATO and Russia to “[refrain] from the threat or use of force…against any other state, its sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence in any manner inconsistent with the United Nations Charter and with the Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations Between Participating States contained in the Helsinki Final Act.”
“As has been reinforced by my meetings in Estonia and Poland, it is clear that, in the case of Russia, any projection of weakness is potentially more provocative than the projection of strength,” Menendez added. “I am gravely concerned about President Putin’s blatant aggression in Ukraine and the risk that his imperialist ambitions may pose to our eastern NATO allies.”
“While in Europe, I urge you to pursue multilateral policies to appropriately respond to Russia’s continued aggression, to increase Russia’s economic isolation, and demonstrate NATO’s continued and equal commitment to the security of every member state.”