First Hints of Congressional Oversight Produce Significant Shift in U.S. Policy Towards Russia
The Senate is to hold a series of hearings on different aspects of U.s. foreign policy towards Russia. Pressure from Congress has begun to have a discernible influence on Trump Administration policy toward Russia.
First, A draft resolution introduced in the House of Representative on July 24 called for the U.S. never to recognize the Russian invasion by military force and subsequent purported “annexation” of the Ukrainian peninsula known as the Crimea.
See 115TH CONGRESS 2D SESSION, H. RES. 1022, Condemning the ongoing illegal occupation of Crimea by the Russian
Federation (July 24, 2018). Introduced in the House by Dave Joyce (R-Ohio).
Second, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, shortly before testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement on the Crimea declaring that the U.S. would not recognize the Russian occupation and “annexation” of the peninsula. In remarks before the Committee, Pompeo reaffirmed the content of the statement, which was in part inspired by the Welles’ Declaration in 1940 regarding the non-recognition of the Russian occupation nof the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia in 1940. Significantly, Pompeo—and the Trump Administration–reaffirmed the importance of the international law principle prohibiting the international use of force and the principle of non-recognition of territories acquired through the threat or use of force.
See Brett Samuels, “Pompeo: US ‘rejects Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea’,” The Hill, July 25, 2018 (02:27 PM EDT).
Third, Pompeo made clear in his testimony that Russia should comply wish the Minsk agreements regarding the peaceful resolution of the conflict in the eastern Ukraine, which began with Russian subversion and military invasion in 2014.
Finally, responding to strong criticism from Republican Senators, Trump postponed this invitation to Vladimir Putin to visit the White House until after the Mueller investigation had concluded, or at least until next year.
Congress under the Constitution has an important oversight function to perform with respect to foreign policy, and can be an important check on abuses by a president. Today, Senator Bob Corker (R.-TN) began to reassert to power of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, earlier led by such stalwarts as Sen. J. William Fulbright and Sen.
Arthur H. Vandenberg.
Whatever the pressures from within the Republican party, the Trump Administration deserves credit for getting it right–finally!–on the Crimea. If Barack Obama and the Europeans had taken such a firm stand backed by real sanctions in March 2014, instead of waffling, Putin might never have been so emboldened as to invade the Eastern Ukraine.
Paradoxically, Trump’s pitiful performance at the summit in Helsinki, on July 16, may have stiffened the resolve of Republicans in Congress sufficiently to produce a good policy result.
The Crimea Declaration
The Crimea Declaration
Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
July 25, 2018
Russia, through its 2014 invasion of Ukraine and its attempted annexation of Crimea, sought to undermine a bedrock international principle shared by democratic states: that no country can change the borders of another by force. The states of the world, including Russia, agreed to this principle in the United Nations Charter, pledging to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. This fundamental principle — which was reaffirmed in the Helsinki Final Act — constitutes one of the foundations upon which our shared security and safety rests.
As we did in the Welles Declaration in 1940, the United States reaffirms as policy its refusal to recognize the Kremlin’s claims of sovereignty over territory seized by force in contravention of international law. In concert with allies, partners, and the international community, the United States rejects Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea and pledges to maintain this policy until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored.
The United States calls on Russia to respect the principles to which it has long claimed to adhere and to end its occupation of Crimea. As democratic states seek to build a free, just, and prosperous world, we must uphold our commitment to the international principle of sovereign equality and respect the territorial integrity of other states. Through its actions, Russia has acted in a manner unworthy of a great nation and has chosen to isolate itself from the international community.
Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “Pompeo Defends Trump With ‘Proof’ of Administration’s Actions vs. Russia,” July 26, 2018 (updated 8:25 AM). Herschfeld writes:
In an apparent attempt to accomplish what the president’s own statements had not, Mr. Pompeo came armed with a formal declaration refusing to recognize Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014. He insisted to a packed hearing room that the president was “well aware of the challenges that Russia poses” and had taken “a staggering number of actions to protect our interests,” calling them “proof” that Mr. Trump was willing to hold Moscow to account.
In his testimony, Mr. Pompeo sought but fell short of assuring senators that the United States would never acknowledge Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He did not directly answer whether sanctions to punish Russia for seizing the Ukrainian peninsula would remain in place in perpetuity.
Instead, Mr. Pompeo repeatedly restated United States policy, saying that after the Helsinki summit meeting, the stance on sanctions “remains completely unchanged,” and that “no commitment has been made to change those policies.” But he did not speak to whether Mr. Trump had signaled any willingness to reconsider or modify them.
See also Tim Hains, “Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo Announces ‘Crimea Declaration’ Demanding Russia End Occupation of Crimea’,” Real Clear Politics, July 25, 2018. Haines quotes Pompeo’s testimony as follows
I want to assure this committee that the United States does not and will not recognize the Kremlin’s purported annexation of Crimea. We stand together with allies, partners and the international community in our commitment to Ukraine and its territorial integrity. There will be no relief of Crimea-related sanctions until Russia returns control of the Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine. This Crimea declaration formalizes United States policy of nonrecognition.
See also Mark Najarian, “U.S. Issues ‘Crimea Declaration’ Reaffirming Rejection Of Russia’s Annexation,” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, Last Updated: July 26, 2018 (05:22 GMT).
Worth noting is that since the Stimson Doctrine was announced in 1932, it has been the policy of the United States not to recognize international territorial changes produced by the use of force.
Readers should note that the specific Crimea-related sanctions were a slap on the wrist to Russia. The really serious sanctions, which Russia is strongly resisting, came only after Russian military intervention in the Eastern Ukraine. These could be lifted, it would appear, without violating the literal statement of Pompeo before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 25.
Everyone needs to keep their eyes sharply focused on President Trump. We don’t know if the heavy sanctions, also adopted by the European Union in response to the Russian military intervention in the eastern Ukraine, were discussed in Putin’s and Trump’s two–hour private conversation in Helsinki on July 16.
The Trenchant Observer