Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing titled: “The Future of U.S. Policy Towards Russia.” Testifying before the committee were David Hale, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and Christopher A. Ford, Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation.
“I am under no illusion that President Trump shares my views on these five elements of Russia policy,” concluded Menendez. “He has abdicated responsibility for defending this country from the threats posed by the Russian Federation. He is simply not interested. We in Congress need to again step up to defend our security and our institutions. Next week, I look forward to working with you and others on the committee to vote on legislation towards that end.”
Senator Menendez’s full remarks as delivered can be found below:
Thank you Mr. Chairman thank you for this very important hearing we’ve been wanting for some time. Secretaries Hale and Ford, thank you for joining us today to talk about the administration’s policy with respect to the Russian Federation. Before we hear from our witnesses, I would like to outline five essential elements that should comprise our policy on the Russian Federation.
First, we must make very clear that so many examples of Kremlin aggression since the invasion of Georgia in 2008 are simply unacceptable and cannot become the norm in international affairs. The invasion of Ukraine and illegal occupation of Crimea, the attempted assassination of regime opponents with chemical weapons on foreign soil, committing war crimes in Syria, the attack on our 2016 election. These are just some.
Russia is clearly not a country that belongs in the G7, despite whatever President Trump might believe. It is still mystifying that President Trump refuses to stand up to this behavior. To this day, he says that the Kremlin attack on our election was a hoax. Repeating lines from Kremlin propaganda, he says that it was Ukraine that actually interfered in the election. During the Cold War, those who unwittingly broadcast Soviet propaganda were called ‘useful idiots’. I don’t know what you’d call those today in the administration or here in Congress who knowingly spout Kremlin lies. Whatever it is, it does a lot damage.
Second, we must implement a clear sanctions regime to change Kremlin behavior. Sanctions on Russia to date have clearly not had the desired effect. Why? Because the administration has not been serious in their implementation. Several mandatory provisions of CAATSA to this day still go ignored.
I won’t go through the list, though I could, other than to point out the most egregious example – it has been 144 days since Turkey took delivery of the Russian S-400 air defense system, clear a significant transaction under CAATSA. And just last week, Turkey tested the system against an American-produced F-16. An American-produced F-16. Enough is enough. CAATSA sanctions must be imposed without further delay. Any new Russian sanctions legislation must make clear our ultimate policy goals, what kind of behavior we are trying change and how sanctions can be lifted in the event that behavior change takes place.
If we are going to increase pressure on Moscow, we must also be honest that it could have spillover effects. Under an enhanced sanctions regime, U.S. companies may no longer be able to benefit from the Russian economy. American investors may no longer benefit from the Russian sovereign debt market. The energy market may be impacted. The banking sector could be impacted. We of course should seek to minimize these effects, but our ultimate measure must always be how continued Kremlin aggression impacts our national security. At the end of the day, that is the ultimate measure that matters.
Third, on arms control. The negative consequences for the United States of abandoning New START, when Russia is in compliance with the treaty and is seeking to extend it, would be grave in the short and long-term. Without New START in place Russia would be able to upload hundreds of nuclear weapons onto its current strategic nuclear platforms. This rapid expansion of Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal would place the United States at a strategic disadvantage, necessitating a fundamental reconsideration of our force posture. I look forward to hearing your views on this today.
Fourth, we need to remember the plight of the Russian people who continue to live under endemic corruption and relentless propaganda. The administration has strayed far from traditional American support for the democratic process, human rights and universal values. These must be at the center of U.S. policy, especially with respect to Russia.
Fifth, we need to support our friends in Europe, especially those on the front lines of Russian aggression. European Deterrence Initiative funding should be increased. Recently the administration decided to redirect EDI money to the president’s border wall. So instead of Mexico paying for the wall as the president promised, our closest allies in Europe will bear the cost. What a deal.
Finally, I want to close with a note on Paul Whelan, the American citizen who has been detained in Russia since last December. If the Russian authorities have evidence, they should charge Mr. Whelan. I, for one, am skeptical that such evidence exists. And if they don’t, they should let him go today.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I am under no illusion that President Trump shares my views on these five elements of Russia policy. He has abdicated responsibility for defending this country from the threats posed by the Russian Federation. He is simply not interested. We in Congress need to again step up to defend our security and our institutions. Next week, I look forward to working with you and others on the committee to vote on legislation towards that end.”