December 7, 2018

Russia’s dangerous escalation in the Kerch Strait



In the days after Congress has returned to Washington following the Thanksgiving recess, many friends of Ukraine have issued statements in support of Ukraine following Russia’s blatant attack on naval vessels in the Kerch Strait. Below is a compilation of statements from senators and representatives. 

Senate Ukraine Caucus

Members of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, November 27:

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio): I join the international community in condemning this unprovoked and unwarranted Russian aggression against the Ukrainian Navy in the Sea of Azov. Ukraine has the right to use this international waterway and Russia must immediately release the captured Ukrainian ships and sailors. This unwarranted, unprovoked aggression by Russia is in violation of international law. In addition to fueling the war in eastern Ukraine and refusing to cease its illegal occupation of Crimea, Russia has harassed hundreds of international commercial vessels in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait over the past several months. This most recent incident in the Sea of Azov highlights the urgent need to bolster Ukraine’s naval capabilities and demonstrates why Congress authorized increased naval assistance to Ukraine, such as the recent transfer of the two excess Island-class cutters from the United States Coast Guard to the Ukrainian military. I and my colleagues stand with the rest of Senate in solidarity with Ukraine.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.): Through cyberattacks, propaganda, military intimidation, and outright invasion, Russia continues to attack Ukrainian sovereignty and international standards. By escalating the tension in the region, Russia’s campaign of aggression in Eastern Europe blazes on. Such blatantly hostile acts must be universally condemned. The United States stands arm in arm with our friends in Ukraine.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.): The Kremlin’s latest attack against Ukraine is not simply another assault by the Kremlin on Ukraine’s sovereignty. With this incident, Putin is sending another unmistakable message to the international community of its intent to reshape international norms by force and fundamentally alter the security and stability that has maintained our global order. It should come as no surprise that those who poison their own citizens on foreign soil are willing to escalate the conflict they started in Ukraine. I urge the transatlantic community to come together again to defend Ukraine with new, more biting measures against the Kremlin. I continue to be proud of the Ukrainian people who have never lost their dignity and motivation to succeed, despite these repeated attacks. I urge all Ukrainian lawmakers to avoid straying from this path, particularly during this difficult period.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio): Russia’s attack on Ukrainian ships this weekend is unacceptable, and this aggression cannot stand unchecked. I join my colleagues in supporting Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself against these attacks and stand up to Russian aggression. I was proud to help broker the bipartisan deal to impose tough sanctions on Russia and will continue working with members of this committee and Congress to hold Russia accountable.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.): Russia must swiftly release all Ukrainian crewmembers and vessels, cease the disruption of Ukrainian and international shipping, and allow unhindered access through the Kerch Strait and in the Sea of Azov. I continue to support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and its right to freedom of navigation.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa): This is the latest example of Russia attempting to improperly exert influence and control over Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula. The actions taken by Russia over the weekend were dangerous, and once again show that Russia has little regard for the rights of its neighbors. The United States and the rest of the international community must make it clear to Russia that it will not tolerate unjustified aggressive actions like this.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.): Vladimir Putin is a lawless autocrat who has no respect for the rights of his own people, let alone international laws and standards. The overt aggression against Ukraine in the Sea of Azov is the latest in a long series of attacks that have violated the sovereignty of Ukraine. I stand ready to work with my colleagues and the president to assist our Ukrainian allies and punish Russian aggression.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.): Russia’s repeated disregard for Ukraine’s sovereignty has undermined Eastern European security, and this unprovoked attack in the Sea of Azov only serves as further evidence that President Putin seeks to destabilize Ukraine and sow uncertainty. Now more than ever, the United States must assert its leadership on the global stage and hold Russia accountable for its dangerous actions. This incident must not go unanswered, and I proudly stand with our Ukrainian allies in their fight against Russian aggression.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.): Russia’s most recent attack on Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait is another example of Putin blatantly violating Ukraine’s sovereignty. This unprovoked aggression violates international law, and Russia must immediately release all Ukrainian crewmembers and vessels, and restore access to the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov. This incident is part of a continued pattern of Russian aggression, and the world is watching to see how the United States reacts.


Sen. Cory Gardner 

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), member of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, November 26:

Russia’s illegal and unprovoked aggression toward Ukraine cannot be tolerated and demands a serious response by the United States and a community of nations. I urge the administration to urgently outline a series of diplomatic, economic and defense posture measures to deter the Kremlin, such as additional deployments of U.S. and NATO assets in the European theater, sanctions against senior Russian officials and their families, and deep cuts to Russian diplomatic presence in the United States. I also renew my call on the State Department to designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism under U.S. law. Putin’s global campaign to test our resolve and undermine the United States and our allies cannot go unanswered.

Sen. James Inhofe 

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, member of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, November 26:

 Russian aggression against Ukraine in the Kerch Strait is yet another reminder that Vladimir Putin is not serious about peace in Ukraine and will stop at nothing to advance his own power in the region. American diplomacy, reinforced by the appropriate military force posture and military readiness, should reflect that fact.

The United States, with our European allies, must take action to reinforce our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and restoration of its territorial integrity. If Putin continues his Black Sea bullying, the United States and Europe must consider imposing additional sanctions on Russia, inserting a greater U.S. and NATO presence in the Black Sea region and increasing military assistance for Ukraine, as called for in the FY 2018 NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act].

Russia’s latest provocations against Ukraine are also a reminder that strategic competition with Russia and China, as highlighted by Secretary [of Defense James] Mattis, is an immediate and urgent reality. These authoritarian powers will continue to test the limits of American resolve as they seek to advance their dark view of the world. The United States must respond to this challenge with purpose and strength, starting by fully resourcing the National Defense Strategy.


Sen. Jack Reed 

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, November 27:

There is a disturbing pattern of Putin taking aggressive action and violating international law and President Trump turning a blind eye. This aggressive action by Russian naval forces is a clear violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and is completely unacceptable.

President Trump’s unwillingness to criticize Putin or take any actions to effectively deter Russia’s provocative behavior has emboldened Russia, and it is harming our national security and that of our allies and partners. 

Instead of giving Putin a free pass, President Trump should announce new sanctions against Russia, call for the immediate return of Ukrainian vessels and crewmen, and call off any planned meetings with Vladimir Putin at the upcoming G-20 summit.

The president, standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies and partners, must call on Russia to take steps to reduce tensions and restore freedom of passage through the Kerch Strait.

Sen. Roger Wicker

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), November 27:  

I strongly condemn Russia’s recent violence against Ukrainians, including the seizure of Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea and Azov Sea regions. Russia must release the Ukrainians it has illegally detained.  I also urge the government of Ukraine to respond to these incidents in a manner consistent with the preservation of the rights and freedoms of its citizens.  To jeopardize these principles in the name of national security is to play into the hands of Vladimir Putin’s propaganda.

To facilitate U.S. policy responses, I hope the State Department and Department of Defense will clarify the international status of the Azov Sea, which has important implications for freedom of navigation worldwide.  It is clear that Russia has repeatedly violated the 2003 agreement between Ukraine and Russia on the sea as shared waters.

Rep. Brendan F. Boyle 

Rep. Brendan F. Boyle (D-Pa.), member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, November 26: 

Vladimir Putin has once again escalated its illegal war in Ukraine. The United States must vigorously support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russian authorities must return Ukrainian vessels and sailors or face more U.S./E.U. sanctions. It is upsetting that during this critical time for Ukraine, President Trump once again chose to attack an ally rather than hold Putin accountable for his aggression.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel 

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, November 26:

Russia’s egregious effort to blockade access through the Kerch Strait between the Black Sea and Azov Sea, including by attacking Ukrainian vessels, is another example of the Kremlin’s unrelenting effort to undermine Ukraine. Russia has no legitimate territorial claims in this case, yet has again relied on force to trample its neighbors’ sovereignty and flout international law. Russia continues to isolate itself and set the stage for further unnecessary loss of Ukrainian and Russian life. The United States and governments around the world must hold Russia accountable for these illegal and dangerous actions and bolster our political and defensive military support for Ukraine.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick 

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, November 25:

Russia’s blatant violation of international law in the Sea of Azov and their provocative attack against Ukraine’s sovereignty are totally unacceptable. Russia must immediately restore the freedom of navigation through the Kerch Strait to allow Ukrainian vessels to freely use Ukrainian ports.

Russia’s continued, illegal occupation of Crimea, and their ongoing attempts to destabilize Eastern Europe, directly threaten our national security interests. We cannot ignore Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. I urge the president and the administration to fully hold Vladimir Putin accountable at next week’s G-20 summit. We must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Ukraine.

Rep. Bill Pascrell 

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), November 26:

Russia’s latest incursions against Ukraine are yet another despicable violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. The entire world is again seeing Vladimir Putin’s hostility to democratic order. Ukraine is our ally and our friend and we must stand beside it. Vladimir Putin is an autocratic bully presiding over a sprawling kakistocracy. Half-hearted praise and foot-dragging on sanctions will not inhibit the dictator. The United States – Congress and the White House together – must stand as one in condemnation of Russia. And we must begin formulating more cooperation with our Ukrainian partners and stronger measures to deter Russian aggression.