By RACHEL HARRIS ’14
My previous two columns presented my opinions concerning the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian crisis to the Wellesley College community. With the upcoming midterm elections, students will have the opportunity to voice your own opinions by voting. Do you know which seats are up for election in November? Have you made an effort to make yourself aware of the platforms of running candidates or of the dates of your party’s primary elections? Are you registered to vote? Your answers to these questions and your participation in voting will ultimately impact the course of the United States’ response to Russia and its controversial annexation of Crimea.
Crimea may not seem like it should be at the forefront of issues to consider when voting for candidates this November. As Congressman Ted Poe, R-Texas, stated last week during a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, “This issue is important to the United States’ national security interests.” Yes, Poe is one of the most prominent far-right leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives. But the fact remains that President Obama and an overwhelming majority of the House and Senate agree with him.
While we were on spring break, the House returned a 399-19 vote in favor of a bill that would provide significant economic assistance to the new government of Ukraine while introducing more sanctions against corrupt Russian officials associated with the ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The bill, which has since been passed by the Senate and awaits a signature of approval by President Obama, guarantees Ukraine $1 billion in loans plus an additional $100 million in direct foreign aid.
Coupled with money pledged by other members of the European Union, Japan, and the International Monetary Fund, Ukraine could expect up to $38 billion in international aid over the coming decade.
“We are…trying to get some leverage on Russia in order to wind down this situation [in Crimea],” said Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, on the subject of the bill. “We are not reviving confrontation. The individual who did that is the head of state for Russia.”
“Once a KGB agent, always a KGB agent,” asserted Congressman Gerald Connolly, D-Va., who is in agreement with Royce. “Mr. Putin seems to have learned nothing from history, other than that there is power at the end of a barrel of a gun … For the United States and its allies to allow this naked aggression to go unaddressed would be truly an abrogation of our moral responsibility and to turn our back on what we should have learned from the 20th century.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also expressed his support of the bill and the necessity of the United States to take action. “The U.S. will not stand idly by while Russia plays the role of a schoolyard bully,” Reid said.
I am of the same mind. Putin’s recent military intervention in Crimea is reminiscent of his power grab in the Republic of Georgia in 2008. In both instances, he has invaded a sovereign nation against the wishes of the rest of the G8, and he has waited. He’s watched as the world has stood by warning him to “better not go any further.” His troops haven’t fired a shot because he’s smart enough to realize that as long as all bullets remain unspent and accounted for, he’s untouchable.
To this day, Russian forces continue to occupy one-third of Georgia without consequence. They will continue to occupy Crimea so long as the West dismisses this occupation to instead threaten Putin with consequences if he marches into the rest of Ukraine, Belarus or Poland. The Crimean referendum was held at the barrel of a gun. Russia had everything to gain and Ukraine had everything to lose. Though the population of Crimea has spoken in favor of joining the Russian Federation, but let us not forget why they are there in the first place. Stalin settled Crimea with Russian speakers after he expelled and executed the native population in what was one of the most devastating genocides in recorded history.
It is a rarity to see such uniformity of opinion by our nation’s elected leaders. Do you agree with this legislation? Or do you find yourself sharing the sentiments of congressmen such as Alan Grayson, D-Fla., who has made clear his disagreement with the recently passed bill?
“Why are we speaking about naked aggression?” Congressman Grayson asked the House on Thursday. “We should be pleased to see…when a virtually bloodless transfer of power establishes self-determination for 2 million people somewhere in the world.”
Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., agreed with Grayson. “If we [the United States] are to be listened to and are to find a peaceful solution, the Russians have to respect that we are there trying to find a solution, not trying to utilize this controversy as a means of defeating them and pushing them into a hole.”
In November, 33 seats in the Senate will be up for election, in addition to three special elections that will be held to fill seat vacancies in Hawaii, South Carolina and Oklahoma. All 435 seats in the House are up for election. All the congressmen quoted in this article are either retiring from their seats or running for re-election.
If you disagree with the recent legislation passed by the 114th Congress, this election season is your opportunity to have your voice be heard. Be a responsible citizen: Read up on candidates, learn about the issues and for God’s sake, register to vote.