Washington Wednesday: Aid to Ukraine

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 26th of June, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Before we get to Washington Wednesday, just a quick word on where we are with the Spring Giving Drive.

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If you include today, we have just five days remaining to hit our goal and, just to break it down as simply as we can, we’ll need about 200 people per day to make it happen.

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EICHER: Alright, now from giving to taking on Washington Wednesday. 

Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. 

But in 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula. It was put to a vote, but the European Union still considers the annexation unlawful. 

Since then, the two countries have been engaged in a conflict between Russian-backed separatists and Ukranian military forces.

REICHARD: Yeah, the fighting has led to more than 10-thousand deaths and as many as 30,000 injured. That’s according to UN estimates.  

Russia has also continued to take other aggressive action—including breaking numerous treaties and seizing Ukrainian ships. 

These persistent Russian offenses have led many to worry the two countries may be headed for all-out war.

EICHER: And that’s what makes a little-noticed event last week significant. The U.S. State Department announced it would provide $250 million to bolster Ukraine’s armed forces.

Here now to tell us more about that is Oklahoma Senator James Lankford. He serves on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. And last month he made a visit to Ukraine. 

Senator, good morning to you.

LANKFORD: Good morning to you as well.

EICHER: Let’s start with this latest news. What will these U.S. dollars be used for in Ukraine?

LANKFORD: So, there’s several key issues in Ukraine and we lose track living in a country like what we live in here in the United States where we border around Canada and Mexico. That is not the neighborhood that Ukraine lives in. 

Currently, there are Russians that occupy Crimea and there are Russians that occupy another region called the Donbass region, far eastern Ukraine. The Russians have cut off access to two of their three major shipping ports. And then the Russians are now surrounding their southern port of Odessa. This has been a very difficult issue for them. 

And so what we’re trying to provide are some basic resources. We’ve already provided humanitarian relief. We do a lot of business cooperation with Ukraine. We’ve started providing some lethal assistance to their military as well so they can stand up and defend themselves. And then this is an additional layer of assistance to their military and to their government—that in the days ahead they can just function as an independent government. 

Russia is literally moving in from the east and pushing their way into Ukraine saying everyone who speaks Russian should be under Russian control. And so they’re determined just to be able to push across Ukraine and to be able to take them over. And no one should allow that. We should consistently find ways to push back with sanctions, diplomacy, and in every way that we can to be able to help the Ukrainians defend themselves.

EICHER: Does this signal that the U.S. is going to more actively engage in trying to resolve this conflict? In other words, should we expect this is the beginning of something bigger, or do you think that’s enough?

LANKFORD: No, it’s not enough. This is a layer. What was done several years ago was basic humanitarian relief that was done under the Obama administration, providing food, blankets, some background information to their military, and then allowing some military training where members of the Ukrainian military would be trained by the United States military. 

And we had the United States military going into Ukraine in the far west and actually doing training with the Ukrainians to be able to better prepare them to defend themselves. And then it was the allowance of lethal aid so the Ukrainians, again, could defend themselves. And then this is one more layer on top. 

The clear message is, we are going to stand with the people of Ukraine and we think it’s exceptionally important that the people of Ukraine hear that message. It’s one of the things I wanted to be able to say while I was in Odessa—in the far south—that the United States is watching and we do take it seriously when Russians are trying to roll their tanks into new territory and to say this is now our land. We shouldn’t allow that anywhere.

EICHER: I’m curious about that trip. Could you tell me a bit about what you observed, what you saw there in Ukraine when you were there?

LANKFORD: So, it is interesting. When you’re in Odessa or when you’re in Kiev, in the central part of Ukraine, they have business operations, they’re functioning like normal. There’s people eating in restaurants, people shopping, people going to work. Everything looks extremely normal. 

But you know 100 miles to the east there’s an active shooting war happening in the Donbass with Russians that have become a stalemate there. The Russians say it’s merely a group of separatists, but it’s Russians that are coming—Russian advisers, Russian trainers, Russian munitions. They’re providing for an ongoing battle there and the Russians are trying to occupy that eastern part as well as Crimea itself, which is clearly part of Ukraine and just take over that land and to hold it long enough and basically create a new normal in that area. 

The longer they hold that land and they push out anyone who is loyal to Ukraine, just one after another say you have lost your house, you’ve lost your land, or make them suffer however they can, can’t get medicine long enough that they escape to another area. Then they just take over that spot. 

There are a lot of—thousands upon thousands of people living in Kiev now that used to live in the eastern part of the country in the Donbass that the Russians have just pushed out of that area, saying we’re taking this over. You can go somewhere else. We don’t care where, but you’ve got to get out of here attitude. 

So that is significant just to be able to continue to be able to engage with them and to be able to help continue to provide a physical presence. And say the United States is watching this.

EICHER: It may be a surprising fact that this has been going on for five years plus. It’s interesting, Senator. Ukraine has a fairly new, untested president here. I’m wondering how you think this comes to and end? And do you have confidence that it will?

LANKFORD: I do hope it comes to the end. And we want to be able to come to a peaceful end beginning with the Russians pulling out of areas that they just rolled their tanks in to take over. The new president of Ukraine made a very public declaration at the beginning to people that speak Ukrainian or people that speak Russian that live in Ukraine, they’re all welcome, they’re all Ukrainians. And that this is one Ukraine. 

And his message to the Russians was you’re not welcome here and we want to see a peaceful resolution. But that means you’ve got to leave the land that you just rolled tanks into and took over by brute force. So this is a long-term resolution, but it’s one the international community should not forget. It’s one of the frustrations that I have that the Europeans, they did not allow the Russians to be able to participate in some of the European meetings and human rights participation because of their occupation of Crimea. Now some of the European countries—France and Germany in particular—are now wanting to look the other way and allow the Russians to come back into dialogue while countries like Ukraine and others are standing up and saying “Don’t forget this is what the Russians are really all about.” 

So I think it is important that Americans say we do not forget what the Russians have done in that area and we think it is significant and a clear violation of international norms.

EICHER: Senator James Lankford is a Republican representing the state of Oklahoma. Senator, thank you for your time today.

LANKFORD: Glad to be able to do it.

(Ludovic Marin/Pool via AP) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, delivers a speech during a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, Monday, June 17, 2019. 

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