Photographer: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Top Eastern European Envoys Urge U.S. to Keep Pressure on Russia

  • Maintain sanctions until Crimea is returned, diplomats say
  • Senator Graham says it’s time to ‘push back’ on Moscow

Top Eastern European diplomats in Washington urged the U.S. to maintain sanctions on Russia and strengthen the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a way of curbing Moscow’s “aggressive” actions three years after its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

“The only effective response to aggressive actions of Russia should be international solidarity with Ukraine and strengthening political, diplomatic and economic pressure on the aggressor,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told a U.S. Senate subcommittee Tuesday. “Appeasement and concessions made to the aggressor would only encourage it for further aggression.”

Pavlo Klimkin

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The Pentagon and State Department are maintaining a tough line against Russia in Eastern Europe despite questions about President Donald Trump’s positions raised during last year’s campaign, when he repeatedly praised President Vladimir Putin and suggested he was open to recognizing the annexation of Crimea.

Tuesday’s hearing came as the Trump administration is embroiled in investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and alleged contacts between Moscow and Trump’s campaign team.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has assured Ukraine that sanctions against Russia will remain in place until Crimea is returned, said Klimkin, who was joined by ambassadors from the three Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, in addition to Georgia and Poland, which all border Russia. Georgia was attacked by Russia in 2008.

Election Interference

Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, called the hearing to discuss Russian efforts to undermine governments in the region. Graham and Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain of Arizona have repeatedly criticized Trump for his reluctance to confront Putin.

“Russians tried to interfere in our elections,” Graham said. “It’s time to push back against Russian interference against democracy.”

Russia has already achieved its strategic ambition of capturing the superpower status it lost after the fall of communism and Soviet Union, said Polish Ambassador Piotr Wilczek. Under Putin, Moscow has modernized its armed forces and has resorted to non-military tactics such as cyber warfare to exploit national vulnerabilities.

“Taking into account Russia’s actions, we see no ground to ease the sanctions or to change our policy on Moscow.” Wilczek said. Dialog with Moscow “needs to be conditional on Russia changing its current policies and its stance toward international law."

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