Holding the line against Russia in Ukraine
Updated 1431 GMT (2231 HKT) April 21, 2021
(CNN)Russia’s menacing troop build-up near Ukraine’s border and in our Crimean region in recent days is the latest reminder to our allies of the ongoing campaign of coercion, intimidation and escalation to which Ukrainians have unfortunately become accustomed.
Overtly and covertly, directly and through proxies, Russian aggression is a truly existential concern to our country. If Russia’s latest move was a test, our allies in the US and Europe did not blink. Recent consultations between President Joe Biden and President Volodymyr Zelensky and across our national security establishments, as well as a united front among Ukraine’s partners in Europe, sent a clear message to the Kremlin.
This may have been the first provocation of the Biden presidency, but it won’t be the last. To deter Russia’s hostile actions and strengthen our nation’s democratic security and stability, it will be necessary to deepen Ukraine’s role in the Euro-Atlantic alliance, and broaden the investment by the US and Europe in Ukraine’s future.
Putin is massing troops at the Ukraine border and testing Biden’s mettleRussian forces invaded our country more than seven years ago — an illegal act that the international community has yet to succeed in reversing. Our people continue to endure the occupation of Crimea and the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, as well as a tightening of Russian control in the nearby Sea of Azov and Black Sea, to which Russia is now restricting access. More than 14,000 Ukrainians have been killed defending our nation against Russia’s attacks, which have escalated dramatically in recent weeks with more than two dozen Ukrainian soldiers killed.Make no mistake: Russian aggression threatens not only Ukraine but also other democracies in our region. America’s steadfast commitment — through military, economic and humanitarian assistance — has been critical to our ability to hold the line. Were it not for widespread, bipartisan support from the United States we and our neighbors would be in a far worse situation. Unfortunately, these military assaults are not the only war we are fighting. We are also trying to turn the tide against corruption, an enduring challenge from the Soviet era, as we work to reform government institutions and improve our investment climate.
Ukrainian President Zelensky invites Russia’s Putin to meetPresident Zelensky created the “Servant of the People” party to deliver change that Ukrainians have demanded, but which for too long has failed to materialize. He represents a new generation of leaders, like myself, elected for the first time. We know why we were voted into office and what our constituents expect us to deliver; for all of us, failure is not an option.In the fight against corruption, our friends in the US are encouraging action, but our citizens are even keener to see results, because this scourge directly impacts their lives and livelihoods. Progress will not occur as quickly as we want, but it is happening. In our parliament, we have signed into law important land reform legislation and approved measures to prevent the return of nationalized banks to their former owners. Recently, the office of Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, announced criminal charges in a $5.5 billion fraud case involving the former senior managers of Privatbank, the country’s largest bank. In February, the President approved sanctions that blocked three pro-Russian television stations from operating in Ukraine. This sparked a dramatic increase in cease-fire violations and casualties in eastern Ukraine — evidently a prelude to the Russian escalation we are now seeing.The best antidote to oligarchic control of our economy is to increase competition by encouraging international investment. To that end, support from the US in the form of loan guarantees, as was done in 2014, 2015, and 2016, will bolster confidence in our market, enable borrowing at more affordable rates, and help unleash the full potential of the Ukrainian private sector. Holding oligarchs accountable for criminal actions will also require trust between US and Ukrainian counterparts in our respective judicial systems, as well as our parliaments, as US cooperation has been helpful to Ukraine in our anti-corruption efforts. When international travel resumes, exchanges between lawmakers from the US Congress and the Ukrainian Rada will provide new avenues to improve needed oversight and accountability.In the Rada, our party is pushing for more reform-minded leaders to be appointed to key positions in the government, for restoring powers to Ukraine’s anti-corruption authorities, and for further measures to safeguard the independence of the National Bank of Ukraine.
Russia sanctions eight US officials and expels diplomats in retaliation for Biden’s actionsUkrainians care deeply about these issues, but they also want to know that America will stand with them when it matters most. US legislation like the recently re-introduced Ukraine Security Partnership Act would help ensure that Ukraine can defend itself over time — and demonstrate to Russia that our nation continues to enjoy overwhelming bipartisan support from Washington. We have made great strides since Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity — the Euromaidan — in 2013 and 2014. But Euromaidan was just one success in a longer endeavor. In August, Ukrainians will mark the 30th anniversary of our independence from the Soviet Union. This will be bittersweet, however, as we remember the victims of Russia’s current occupation and its ongoing threats to our independence. Like many in Ukraine, I have only a distant memory of life under Soviet control. Growing up in a newly-liberated country, my generation — including President Zelensky — looked to the West for inspiration and opportunity. The chance I had to live in America instilled in me a deep affinity for a people whose values — individual liberty, personal and economic freedom — are deeply aligned with ours. As Ukrainians confront the heightened threat of a Russian invasion that could extinguish these freedoms, American support is more vital than ever to our determination and our ability to prevail.
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