05 January 2017January 5, 2017 (New York) - Continuing nearly a century of cooperation, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA), the largest grassroots representation of Americans of Ukrainian descent, looks forward to working with the incoming U.S. Department of State and the President-elect’s administration to fortify and improve U.S. relations with Ukraine. As the next Secretary of State, President-elect Trump has nominated Rex Tillerson, currently the chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, the world’s largest publicly owned oil and gas company. Mr. Tillerson, distinguished in his business career, has pledged to "focus on strengthening our alliances, pursuing shared national interests and enhancing the strength, security and sovereignty of the United States.” While we are in full support of a U.S. foreign policy with such a focus, we remain unfamiliar with Mr. Tillerson’s geopolitical view of the world, as well as the details of his previous business partnerships with the Russian oil giant Rosneft, currently under sanctions by the United States, Ukraine and the European Union.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has stated that he, “expects the US-Russian relationship to be front and center in this confirmation process," while Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) declared himself “deeply troubled” by Mr. Tillerson’s opposition to sanctions imposed by the United States on Russia after its intervention in Ukraine in 2014. Before and during Mr. Tillerson’s upcoming Senate confirmation process, we, the representative voice of the Ukrainian-American community, will look on with interest on the discussion of a number of key issues, among them:
U.S.-Ukraine relations: Will Mr. Tillerson continue our nation’s strong bipartisan support for, and cooperation with, Ukraine, the only non-NATO partner nation to have contributed actively to all NATO-led operations and missions for the past 20 years? Will he support the further enactment of actions authorized by the bipartisan Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014, including the supplying of defensive equipment, services, and military training? In addition to living up to our public and binding security guarantees to Ukraine, will the United States maintain its investments in programs promoting democratic governance, as well as education, professional and cultural exchange programs towards the development of civil society in Ukraine at current levels? Furthermore, all U.S. Secretaries of State and all U.S. Presidents (save President Obama) have made it policy to visit Ukraine since it regained its independence in 1991. When can we expect visits by Secretary Tillerson and President Trump?
Russia: Non-partisan U.S. military commanders have testified on record that Russia presents “the greatest threat to our national security,” and possesses the conventional and nuclear capability to be an existential threat to the United States should Putin choose to do so. Does Mr. Tillerson recognize the threat posed to the national security of the U.S. by the Russian Federation? As Russia acts to demolish the Euro-Atlantic community’s unity and destabilize countries on its periphery, how does Mr. Tillerson envision us neutralizing this threat and does that include holding the Russian Federation accountable for repeatedly violating international norms, invading and occupying parts of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, not to mention the many political assassinations linked to Russia both there and abroad? In mid-December, the EU extended through July 31, 2017, their sanctions levied on Russia after the downing of a civilian airliner (MH17) by Russian operators in Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea. Additional sanctions are up for renewal by the EU on March 15. Will Mr. Tillerson actively lobby his European counterparts to extend their current sanctions regime until the withdrawal of all covert and overt Russian forces and equipment from Ukraine? Economic blackmail is a staple in Russia’s warfare playbook. What policies will Mr. Tillerson enact to combat Russia’s use of natural gas and oil as economic blackmail of Ukraine?
Crimea: The United States, together with the EU, has repeatedly communicated a unified, steadfast and explicit commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and self-determination. As the territorial integrity of Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders cannot be negotiated, does Mr. Tillerson reject any form of recognition of Russian rule over Crimea?
Human Rights: As a global leader, the United States has supported the rights of individual freedoms throughout all countries. International organizations have documented severe human rights abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea. Will Mr. Tillerson apply sanctions as legislated in the newly-enacted Global Magnitsky Bill for Russian officials who systematically violate the human rights of indigenous Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, religious minorities and others in the Crimean peninsula?
NATO: America’s allies in Europe have expressed concern about the President-elect’s commitment to our NATO allies, especially with regard to coalition policies toward a revanchist Russian regime that violates the sovereignty of its neighboring states on a daily basis. What are Mr. Tillerson’s views on direct military assistance, including defensive arms and additional military training exercises, to the Baltic countries and Poland, as well as the potential of establishing permanent NATO bases in those countries? Does Mr. Tillerson envision any change in U.S. support for NATO’s “Open Door” policy for eventual NATO membership for Ukraine, Georgia and other aspiring qualified CEE countries?
Information/Propoganda War: Russian nefarious activity in Ukraine can also be categorized as a hybrid war, which includes a fierce informational warfare in social media circles and the media. Combatting misinformation and propaganda is a necessary tool in the U.S. warfare arsenal. Recent legislation enables the formation of a bureau that would be coordinated within the State Department to combat propaganda from aggressive actor-states, in particular Russia. How will Mr. Tillerson enable Ukraine’s society to combat the ill effects of Russia disinformation and promote the principles of democracy and liberty?
As a reminder, the two largest militaries in Europe (Russia and Ukraine) have been actively engaged in a land war for nearly 3 years, displacing over 2 million people (the most in Europe since WWII). As Americans, we believe that a democratic and independent Ukraine is in the national security interests of the United States. With U.S. support, a democratic, independent Ukraine can be the stabilizing partner the United States has been seeking to decrease U.S. international deployments as Europe’s pro-democratic East steps up to repay the faith invested in them.