US Senate leaders John McCain [R-AZ] and Dick Durbin [D-IL] joined Atlantic Council President Frederick Kempe in a conference call to discuss the Senators’ recent trip to Ukraine and next steps for Congress in responding to the crisis there.
|Crisis in Ukraine: A Bipartisan Response to an “Illegitimate” Crimea
Welcome and Moderator:
OPERATOR: Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. We now have our speakers in conference. Please be aware that each of your lines is in a listen-only mode. At the conclusion of the presentation, we will open the floor for questions. At that time, instruction will be given as to the procedure to follow if you would like to ask a question.
It is now my pleasure to turn today’s conference over to Mr. Fred Kempe. Mr. Kempe, please begin.
FREDERICK KEMPE: Welcome, and thank you. Good morning to all of our callers today.
We had Secretary-General – NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen at the Atlantic Council for an off-record breakfast this week, and he made very clear that this was the biggest security threat to Europe since the end of the Cold War. We at the Atlantic Council agree with this.
Our – this call is part a larger members’ programming initiative. We initiated these calls both to respond quickly to crucial unfolding events and to galvanize our very powerful and influential global Atlantic Council community. This is also part of a larger Ukraine initiative. We’ve gone in on offense. We’ve had Damon Wilson and a team in Ukraine, my executive vice president. We’ve had the prime minister of Ukraine at the council, Yatsenyuk, preceded by the prime ministers of Moldova and Georgia. We’re doing continuous updates on issues ranging from energy to security to sanctions through these conference calls. We’ve introduced a twice weekly – well, maybe more frequent after that – Ukraine alert, putting all the thoughts together. And then we’ll have Carlos Pascual at the Atlantic Council April 3rd to talk about energy independence, and we’ll do an international conference on Ukraine after the elections in May. This is all because we recognize the historic importance of what’s going on and we want to be the center or a center of activity to help those who are trying to come up with an effective and reasonable response.
In that – in that spirit, we are absolutely delighted to have Senator McCain and Senator Dick Durbin on this call. The two led a delegation of U.S. senators to Ukraine last weekend to show bipartisan support for the transitional government in Kiev. We’re pleased that the two have found time to discuss the far-reaching impacts of the crisis of Ukraine and, importantly, to provide a personal perspective on the atmosphere on the ground and in Congress as the U.S. continues to evaluate options vis-à-vis Russia.
I won’t take up their time with a long analysis of the situation of my own, but you know what’s happened this week with President Putin’s very unusual speech, one that will go down in the history books, and of course President Obama’s answer of a new set of sanctions against U.S. individuals while on the Moscow side there seem to be no signs of de-escalation.
Let me first introduce Senator McCain, a Navy veteran, ranking Republican on the senator – Senate Armed Services Committee. He’s been an independent policy voice for many of his 25 years in office. The Atlantic Council presented him its Freedom Award for his consistent serve over – consistent and effective service to the cause of freedom.
Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Springfield, is the 47th U.S. senator from the state of Illinois, the state’s senior senator and convener of Illinois’ bipartisan congressional delegation. He also serves as the assistant majority leader, the second highest-ranking position in the Senate, also known as the majority whip. He was elected to this leadership post by his Democratic colleagues every two years since 2006.
This also underscores what the Atlantic Council stands for, which is a bipartisan approach to reach solutions to the most pressing international issues.
So with that, let me pass to Senator McCain for his remarks. Senator Durbin will follow him, and then we’ll go straight into questions.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): Well, thank you, Fred, and thank all of you for joining the call. Contrary to popular belief about the Senate, Senator Durbin and I and several others are – have acted for a number of years, particularly on national security issues, in a bipartisan fashion.
And on our visit to Ukraine and on our return, we presented a bipartisan approach to this – what Fred just described, arguably the greatest crisis since the end of the Cold War. We may have some differences on exactly which tactics or which measures should be taken by the president and the Congress, and I think we could obviously respond to those. But the – one of the issues that Dick and I have to confront, beginning next Monday, is the issue of sanctions on Vladimir Putin and Russia. We passed through this – through the – they passed through the House a billion-dollar loan guarantee, but with no binding sanctions. We passed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a very tough bill that has very significant sanctions in a broad array of areas, and unfortunately it was blocked by Republicans who – because part of that bill is IMF reform. I happen to think the IMF reform is necessary, but I respect the views – who think that it is not.
But to allow that to be a reason not to move forward, after this, after Ukraine has been the subject of a military invasion, is almost incredible to me.
So we will pass it through the Senate when we return. Dick can fill in all the details on that. But now we have to get the House to move forward with us, so that we can send a message.
I will admit to being very critical of the president’s handling of this, and I’ll be glad to get into it. But very frankly, unless the Congress acts very quickly and it’s blocked by Republicans, I will be embarrassed.
Can I finally say, on our visit, that the – we met with the government leaders and many others, and there’s doubt that the people of Ukraine are – feel violated, and they have been. And there’s many aspects of this issue, but I would like to just make a couple of real quick points.
One, there was an agreement in 1994 in return for removal of what was then the third-largest – the world’s third-largest inventory of nuclear weapons, and in return for that, Ukraine was guaranteed its territorial integrity, including Crimea. If we set this precedent now, I don’t think any other nation with a nuclear capability would be moved to have that capability removed.
Second point is, I predicted that Vladimir Putin would invade Crimea because of his vision of the Russian empire that the old KGB colonel still aspires to. I don’t know what he’s going to do now. I think that what he does now is going to be directly related to what he thinks the penalty is that he may have to pay, not only as far as eastern Ukraine but also Moldova, Transnistria. There’s even pressures on the Baltics and on, quote, “mistreatment” of the Russian population. The situation there is still incredibly tense, and I’d like to – we have – Dick and I are in agreement on a number of measures that should be taken, but I’ll – and I’ll talk about those in the Q-and-A and pass it over to Dick Durbin. Thank you.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Senator McCain.
Over to you, Senator Durbin.
SENATOR RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): Thanks a lot, Fred. Thanks, John.
I look back on our trip, and one of the, I think, more touching and inspiring visits was to Maidan. In this square over the last several months, the seeds of change were sown, at the expense of a hundred and three innocent lives, people killed speaking out for change in their government. When you enter the Rada, the parliament there, they have a shrine with the pictures of each one of those victims.
You can understand that this is more than just a political debate. For people living in Ukraine, this is about their country and their future. And as they move forward with a lot of uncertainty about the political future, uncertainty about their economic future, they have had to face this invasion by the Russians and Vladimir Putin. They are not in a position to defend themselves. Yanukovych weakened and hollowed out their military – nominally, 149,000 soldiers, perhaps 6,000 ready for battle, and no match to the Russian military might. They asked us for a lot of help.
First, solidarity with the West. It was interesting that Yatsenyuk’s first trip as the prime minister was to Washington to meet with congressional leaders, to meet with the president of the United States, and we were told over and over again that the West needed to show solidarity with Ukraine for its future. I hope that the members of the Atlantic Council will take that to heart. I’m sure they will.
We also had a chance to talk to opposition leaders, and what struck me was, even the Party of Regions, the party of the previous leadership in Ukraine, were in conversation about the future. This transition in Ukraine has been open, transparent, constitutional. They are moving toward a May 25th presidential election, which we in the West of course applaud. That’s how we believe that decisions should be made by governments. And so I feel good about their course of action and their direction.
The last point I want to make before I turn it over for questions – and I agree initially with John and his observations about the United States’ role and the importance of the votes coming up next week. The last point I want to make is that I returned to Chicago, as John knows, to a very large – maybe the largest in America – Ukrainian-American population. Last Sunday, after we arrived in the early morning hours, I was in a town meeting in the Ukrainian Village section of Chicago – over 500 strong, people fresh from church, who came to hear the latest on Ukraine. You expected that. For many of them, this really does – is a matter of a heart and soul commitment to the country of their families’ birth.
But in the front row of that meeting were people representing my mother’s homeland of Lithuania, Polish people, Latvians, Georgians, all in solidarity with this cause in Ukraine. And the reason? Very obvious: They’ve seen this movie before. They saw it with Soviet aggression. They know the vulnerability of these small states when it comes to Russian aggression and Vladimir Putin’s ambition.
It’s time for us in the West to stand – and I hope in Congress to join them – with one voice in solidarity with the sovereignty of Ukraine and the basic future of what we consider to be and – easily established as freedom-loving nations in the West.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Senator Durbin.
It was some interesting opening insights. I think the issue of nuclear proliferation that Senator McCain has raised is an important one, particularly given the Obama administration’s focus on that issue throughout the two terms, and also the question of, you know, where will Putin really go next; Senator Durbin’s very moving explanation of not only what’s going on in the Maidan but what’s going on in Chicago and this broader notion of the countries around.
So let me thank you for your opening insights. The moderator’s going to quickly explain how the Q-and-A process works, and then I’ll get us started with a question or two while the audience queues up for questions.
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
MR. KEMPE: Thank you very much. And this is a question for both of you gentlemen, and the real question is, what stops Vladimir Putin? What could one possibly do right now that would convince him that he – that the cost is far too high to go further? And be as detailed as you can.
The context of this question is really that on the one hand, as I said earlier, the secretary-general – NATO secretary-general described the crisis as the biggest threat to Europe’s security since the end of the Cold War, yet President Obama has stated multiple times that a military option in Ukraine is not on the table. And we don’t really have any treaty obligations to Ukraine or – and so what do we do?
And it seems a very dangerous situation because during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, we had a set of long-established procedures and understandings that sort of governed the way we interacted with each other in these sorts of situations. And we don’t seem to have those here.
So with all of that in mind, what do you think is the – in some detail, the response that would be effective? Senator McCain, maybe you can start.
SEN. MCCAIN: OK. Thanks. First of all and foremost, to understand Vladimir Putin, he’s an old KGB apparatchik that on several occasions said the greatest disaster of the 20th century was the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, and understanding what he is and what he’s about, and reset buttons don’t work and being more flexible with him don’t work. And that does not mean a return to the Cold War because part of the Cold War was an ideological struggle, and that struggle was long ago decided, but it does mean that Vladimir Putin believes that the 19th century still prevails and that the – his dream and goal is restoration of the old Soviet Empire. So I think first, we – Russian Empire.
So I think the first thing is to understand Vladimir Putin, and the second thing is to understand we need to help their economy. Their economy is in the tank, thanks to all of the things we know about, the terrible corruption that characterized the administration of Yanukovych and prior. And I think the third thing is – and this is where I may have some differences with some of my colleagues – I’d give them defensive weapons, and I’d do it immediately, and I would ship them over there. You know, we’re – again, we’re sending – (chuckles) – the Syria situation – we’re sending them MREs.
By the way, those MREs have not left the United States of America yet. I would get them defensive weapons because the higher price that Putin thinks he has to pay for further aggression, the more likely it is that he doesn’t act. I would immediately announce the resumption of the missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland that was put on hold or not pursued by early in the Obama administration. I would develop a long-term plan to get energy to Europe and to Ukraine. Obviously, the dependence that Germany and – including Ukraine, but others have on the energy supplies out of Russia are going to be – already are a break on the kinds of actions that the Europeans may take in response.
And finally, let’s speak up. Let’s speak up for these people the way Ronald Reagan used to. Let’s talk about their struggle. Let’s pause a moment on the search for the airliner, the president of the United States, and pause from his bracket selections and talk about how – what a great – what an incredible threat this is to the stability of Europe. There are other measures that we can take, and we’re still the strongest and most powerful nation on earth, and I’m sure there are other thing – steps that we can take.
And if we needed any affirmation – (chuckles) – of Vladimir Putin, it was the press conference that he held when – after his troops had occupied Crimea, and he said, well, you can buy these uniforms anyplace in Eastern Europe. I mean, we are really in return to the old Soviet Union practice of telling just blatant, flat-out lies and not caring about the fact whether it has any validity whatsoever.
And finally, I don’t believe in gradualism. Having 11 – seven Russians and four Ukrainians sanctioned as a result of the invasion of a country, in my view, probably deserves the ridicule that the Russians gave it. I think we need a package of very strong measures and close cooperation and work with the Congress to get those done that are doable. But it requires presidential leadership.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Senator McCain.
SEN. DURBIN: Well, I might say that it is interesting that the Ukrainians have not asked for American military forces or other forces to come into their nation, nor have we offered. And I think that is a clear distinction that we’ve got to make very clear as we talk about opportunities, possibilities. John has laid out an array of potential responses, many of which I agree with, some of which I would raise a question or two (with ?).
But let me talk about the things we do agree on. We have to be front and center with this as an issue, on a timely basis. That means that the Congress, on a bipartisan basis, needs to act as quickly as next week. The notion that we would be mired in a political debate, which John referred to in his opening remarks, really destroys our credibility, speaking with one voice against Putin’s aggression. Let’s get this resolution passed next week on a bipartisan basis. It used to be – you know, with some exceptions, it used to be that foreign policy was a bipartisan measure.
On this question, it certainly should be when it comes to staring down Putin, his ambitions. There are other things that I think are part of this. And here’s the context we should put them in. When we’re talking about economic sanctions against Ukraine, many of these have the potential of more backlash and negative feedback to the European allies who share our beliefs than they do to the United States (properly ?). When you consider the fact that the European Union relies so much on Russian energy sources, if we get engaged in economic sanctions, they do it with their eyes wide open. That could mean higher cost for gas, for example, or oil, and it could have a negative impact on their economies.
So the president has tried to carefully bring along our European allies to believe that we have to do more. To do it alone, it’s very limited what the United States could do. To do it with our allies can have some impact on Putin.
There are two things that I think we ought to try to get inside his mind, if we can, because I agree with John, a KGB colonel is not an easy person to analyze. But he had just finished his charm offensive at the Sochi Olympics, spent $50 billion on people all over the world to try to portray Russia as a new, modern, civilized nation and then within days, moved the same troops from Sochi, who were protecting athletes, to invade the Crimea. That shouldn’t be lost on the world that this return to Soviet-style tactics was on the agenda clearly during his celebration of the Olympics.
The second issue which we ought to understand is as soon as we made it clear that we were going to resist his aggression in Crimea, there was a 10 to 15 percent drop in value in the Russian stock market. That precipitated this rambling Putin press conference in which he assured the world he wasn’t going to go too far. I think he can feel the pain in his own economy when we stand together. I hope Congress starts next week, and I hope our European allies see that some type of economic sanctions are essential if we’re going to stop his aggression.
MR. KEMPE: Mr. Durbin, one follow-up question on the economic sanctions, where Senator McCain may want to jump in as well, and then I’ll pass to the callers. I know – and I know the senators knew this, but just for everyone on the call, this is on the record. We have media as well joining the members on this call. And so just for the record, it’s on the record.
A number of businesses, right up to the CEO level, have been meeting with White House executives and senior officials and congressional members to talk about the unintended consequences of U.S. unilateral economic sanctions for U.S. businesses working in Russia. And I know European businesses are even more aggressive with their own officials on this question. How do you go forward in this kind of way where you’re doing harm or you’re driving up the costs for Putin to make him reassess and you’re not unilaterally harming U.S. businesses in a way that may not be so terribly effective in the end anyway?
SEN. MCCAIN: Go ahead, Dick.
SEN. DURBIN: I’m – I was cut off there. I lost contact. And so excuse me, I’ve been gone a couple minutes. Please continue.
MR. KEMPE: Yeah, well, the real question is – maybe, Senator McCain, you can answer it quickly, and then Senator Durbin, in your answer, we will give the gist of the question.
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, Fred, what was the old Lenin line – (inaudible) – capitalists will hang themselves, and we’ll sell them the rope to do it? I – look, I don’t think that this is without cost to American and European business. I’m very much concerned about that. But what are the options? Do nothing and thereby encourage Transnistria in Moldova, encourage further incursion in the Ukraine, further – give him a blank check? And by the way, the president used unique language the other day, he – yesterday. He said there would be no U.S. military excursion. I don’t – we are in – all in agreement there is no military option here. But to go out of your way to point that out to Mr. Putin, I think, is really remarkable.
And I also think that what we should be doing, what we did after the Russians marched into Czechoslovakia, after they marched into Hungary, after they – the old Soviet Union acted aggressively – (inaudible) – long-term, we are for the freedom and democracy and the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and we will remain committed to that, to the removal of Russian troops from the sovereign territory of Crimea. Instead, the president just announced that we are not going to have any military involvement. We all know that. Do we have to reassure Vladimir? Does this – more flexibility with Vladimir?
And I’m sorry if I’m a little sarcastic, but – so I think that any action that we take in the way of sanctions will probably hurt somebody’s business with Russia because there’s a hell of a lot of business done with Russia. I think the immediate problem obviously is, as Dick pointed out, the energy supply, not only through Ukraine, but to – into Western Europe. And you know, I would like to have our administration, and maybe our European friends, return to Teddy Roosevelt’s old comment about walking (sic) softly but carrying a big stick. Talk is awfully cheap, and so far I’ve heard a lot of talk, but I haven’t seen a lot of action, and that can only encourage Vladimir Putin. Yes, the Russian stock market and ruble went – suffered a blow, and after the president announced 11 sanctions, the stock market – Russian stock market went back up, and the ruble strengthened. So this gradualism, in my view, is not the best way to approach it.
And finally, could I just say again, I agree with Dick. On the floor of the Senate, when – just before we went out of session and the Republicans were blocking the passage of the bill that Dick and I played a role in getting through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, thanks to the leadership of Bob Mendendez and Corker, I said, you know, call yourself Republicans if you want to because that’s your voter registration, but don’t call yourselves Reagan Republicans. To allow an IMF reform measure – to block us from doing the things that would help the people of Ukraine in their hour of need is just unbelievable. And by the way, it is kind of a remarkable commentary about where at least parts of the Republican Party are going.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you. So Senator Durbin, the question here really was one on on the unintended consequences of unilateral U.S. sanctions when we undertake sanctions or some sort of package next week, where American businesses might be hurt. And we’ve had CEOs and different executives already talking to congressional leaders and White House officials about that, and whether you have some concern about that at all.
SEN. DURBIN: Well, let me address two things John raised. And first, I don’t think the president’s statement about military incursions was really directed as much at Vladimir Putin as it was at Congress. It wasn’t that long ago that President Obama asked for the authority to use military force – not troops, but military force – in Syria to stop their use of chemical weapons. John and I stood behind the president on a bipartisan basis. But sadly, both Democrats and Republicans resisted any idea that we would have any form of military involvement, and it didn’t involve troops on the ground. I think what the president wants to be sure of is when he stands up and says, this is what America will do, he has bipartisan support to achieve it in Congress. And I believe that he’s right. If he doesn’t make it clear at the outset that there’ll be no military troops, to the Congress, it’s a nonstarter. So I think he had to make that point, and we have to take it into consideration. There are many possible options, but we have to be able to say to the administration, if you will propose these, we will support them, and Congress will stand behind you.
The second point, the really heart of the question here, is whether unilateral sanctions can work. And I’ll be the first to tell you, I’ve watched throughout my time in Congress well-principled, determined unilateral efforts that have failed. It – many times they are an expression of frustration and anger, and they really don’t change the bad conduct of other people. So I think what the president’s trying to do and should do is to build up a coalition of support. We saw that in the United Nations Security Council vote, where only Russia voted no. China abstained. We need to continue that, working with Angela Merkel and our allies in NATO, to make sure that whatever we do has that support.
Now, the last point I’ll make is we were briefed that there are some 900 corporations that are part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Moscow. So we know there’s a large business presence, American business presence in that country, and they include some of the largest corporations in America. These companies and the business they do are central to the Russian economy, as many Russian activities in the United States are important to their economy. So I think the notion that they face even targeted economic sanctions will be felt in Russia. And if we can do that with strong bipartisan support in America and the support of our NATO allies, it will be credible.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Senator. Let me now turn to Jay Solomon, my former colleague at the Wall Street Journal.
Q: (Audio break) – successful was that they passed the CISADA legislation that basically said, you know, if you’re any European or Asian firm doing business with one of the sanctioned Iranian entities, you could get sanctioned, too. It was the extraterritorial element of the Iran sanctions that really caused a lot of pain. Is there any talk of that now on the Hill? Is that – I mean, when you talk about unilateral sanctions, in a lot of ways, these sanctions became multilateral because of the way they were structured, and I’m just curious if Senator McCain or Durbin think that is one way it might go in the – as these sanctions are debated on the Hill.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Jay. The very first part of your question got a little cut off, but I think the gist of it was in the end, so – and I guess this is for both senators.
SEN. DURBIN: If you’d like me to respond first, I don’t know that there has been a specific conversation about the form of sanctions – economic sanctions, and John and I are going to work to try to find some bipartisan consensus for moving forward on that. I remember when President Obama told us in a recent meeting at the White House that to reach this stage and this level on Iranian sanctions and their success – and I believe they have put pressure on the Iranian government – he literally spent the first four or five years in office with every foreign visitor, spending five or 10 minutes on Iranian sanctions.
So they all knew, as they left, we were serious about it, we needed their help on it, and many of them committed after that seriousness was communicated. So I think it’s more than just the United States saying, we’re going to do it, and we’ll punish any nation that doesn’t do it with us. And I’m not sure that is a winning formula. I think it’s much better to start with a consensus and at least to start with the support of our NATO allies.
SEN. MCCAIN: Yeah, my only additional comment is that America should lead, and this president, in my view, does not lead. And the lowest common denominator will – should be – should not be determined by our European friends. The Iran sanctions did work; whether – there may be some disagreement about the talks and their future, but I don’t think there’s any disagreement that the sanctions that were passed by the Congress over the objections of the Obama administration have had a significant effect in bringing the Iranians to the table, and that should be a model.
But for the United States of America to not act because the Europeans, particularly the Germans, will not act, or our business community tells us not to act ignores the fact that this is an act of aggression that is almost unprecedented since the end of World War II, and the only thing that stops people like Vladimir Putin is the cost being high enough for – to deter him from his ambitions of the restoration of the Russian Empire, and – of which he views Ukraine as the crown jewel.
I believe it was Dr. Kissinger that said that Russia, with Ukraine, is an empire, and without it, a country. So I’m frankly a bit cynical about how far our European friends will go, and if we are driven by the policies of the British or, in this case, the Germans, then Vladimir Putin, I think, will be, if not encouraged, certainly satisfied that his action was relatively cost-free, and maybe it’s – some people think that sanctioning 11 people is a – in a gradual escalation is the way to go. I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s what gets Vladimir Putin’s attention.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Senator. Turning to Tricia Zengerle of Reuters, and you can also state to whom you’d like to address your question.
Sorry, do we have Tricia Zengerle?
OPERATOR: We do not; she’ll have to queue back in by pressing star one.
Tricia, if you will press star one?
MR. KEMPE: Don’t worry. Can we go to the next questioner?
OPERATOR: We can.
MR. KEMPE: OK. William Douglas, please, of McClatchy Newspapers.
Q: Yes, good morning. Senators, how confident are you that the aid bill will be brought up this week with the unanimous consent to avoid 30 hours of debate? And what has the lag been – you’ve been out for a week – what has the time lag been between the time that you first tried to bring up the bill to this coming week? What’s been the impact of not having this thing done?
SEN. MCCAIN: Dick didn’t give you the parliamentary procedure. We will be voting on it, I hope, on Monday night, because of the cloture invoked by Harry Reid. But what’s the impact? If we pass it right away, then I think it will be minimal, but again, I think I’m more disappointed than Dick is in my fellow Republicans, because I could argue the IMF reform either way, but compared to the crisis that we are, in my view, obligated to address as a body is really not reasonable.
SEN. DURBIN: We lost about 10 days before the vote, but it was more than that. Harry Reid asked to pass the measure – unanimous consent to pass the measure, and what he had to down when he was – when there was an objection was to file a procedural motion to go to the measure, and the questioner raises the right question. Are you now going to face 30 hours of debate and then 30 hours of debate and so forth? And I honestly don’t know the answer to it, but I would hope that there is a sense of urgency among our colleagues on both sides of the aisle that if they want to speak to it, by all means, they should. That’s their right to do. But let’s not slow down this response, and let’s make sure, at the end of the day, that it’s strong, it’s bipartisan and Putin and others hear it.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you. Andreas Ross (sp) of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Q: Hello. Senators, following up on your harsh criticism of Europe and Germany in particular, could you spell out what sanctions, more precisely, you would want to see put in place, what the conditions would be for those sanctions to be lifted, and also, what your assessment – is it really the Europeans putting the foot on the brakes? Would the American administration be willing to go much farther at this point, or are they on the same page in being quite happy that Europe is giving the pretext of not moving any further at this point? If I could get both senators’ perspective on that. Thank you.
SEN. DURBIN: Yeah, thank you. Let me just start by saying this. I think it’s essential that we have a unified effort. I don’t – you asked for specifics; I don’t have them. I’m sure that I’ll return to Washington and will be briefed on specific options that are available, so I don’t want to speculate on that. But I do want to say one thing, and I think John and I feel the same way about this: Eight years ago, Putin invaded Georgia. As a result of that, he is occupying territory in Georgia; I’ve seen it firsthand – military bases – Russian military bases in this sovereign nation.
Now, he has invaded Crimea eight years later. And the obvious question we have to ask ourselves – painful question is, what if the next target is a NATO ally? What will we do? Let us pre-empt that. Let’s make it clear to Vladimir Putin at this point in time that this type of aggression, this type of confrontation is unacceptable. The next possibility is unthinkable, and I don’t want to see us reach that point.
SEN. MCCAIN: And I agree with everything that Dick said, including the fact that Moldova, which is not a member of NATO, still has 1,500 Russian troops in Transnistria, and I would imagine that somewhere in Vladimir Putin’s calculations, Moldova is a factor.
Well, I mentioned the resumption of missile defense in the Czech Republic and Poland. Sanctions on individuals which we are – we are gradually moving forward in, companies and corporations, financial institutions. There is a long list of individuals, companies, corporations, trade agreements – membership, and the G-8 should be the G-7. There is – there is a large number of options that are available to us. And again, using the Iranian model would be a good beginning.
And I’m not trying to be too harsh in my comments about the Europeans. Obviously, the energy supplies are critical to their economy. And that’s why I mentioned earlier the absolute necessity of long-term export of U.S. energy to Europe to relieve that aspect of their – that’s critical to their economy. But those measures in my view have got to be strong enough that they serve as a deterrence. And (by the way ?), one thing, it would be kind of nice if all of our NATO allies started spending some more money on defense, including the United States of America.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Senator.
SEN. DURBIN: Fred – (inaudible) –
MR. KEMPE: Yeah. Please.
SEN. DURBIN: (Inaudible) – but I’m going to have to sign off at this point. But I thank you very much for giving this opportunity.
MR. KEMPE: No, I knew you might have to leave early. Senator McCain, if you can stay with us 10 more minutes, we’re almost at the end.
SEN. MCCAIN: Sure. Sure.
MR. KEMPE: Great. Thank you, Senator Durbin.
Tricia Zengerle from Reuters, you’re back in the queue.
Q: Hi. Can you hear me now?
MR. KEMPE: Yes.
SEN. MCCAIN: Yes.
Q: OK. I wanted to ask for prospects also in the House of passing some legislation. And I understand they’re going to introduce a bill on Ukraine without the IMF reforms in it. And even if not, there is certainly a lot of resistance to it. Do you think that – what do you think’s going to happen with that? Is it – and it’s going to have to go to conference, and what – would the Senate give up the IMF reforms? Would the House then – what happens?
SEN. MCCAIN: As you know, the House did pass a billion dollar loan guarantee with no sanctions in it, and that was before things got quite as graphic as they are today. I’ve had conversations with a number of House members, some House leadership. I’m guardedly optimistic that they will move forward – well, when the Senate passes our bill, that we will go to conference with that – with the House. I can’t guarantee that we can reach an agreement, but I cannot imagine how embarrassed the United States of America would be if we failed to pass legislation to respond to this. I think the atmosphere and the environment has changed rather significantly since the House passed the bill that they passed. So I can’t guarantee it, but I’m very hopeful that the House of Representatives will go to conference with us after we pass this bill through the Senate and get a real good package out that sends a good signal. But I also would hope that the president would weigh in very strongly on the necessity for this legislation as well.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Senator McCain.
Annette Hauser of the Bertelsmann Foundation and member of the Atlantic Council board.
OPERATOR: Annette, your line is live.
Q: Yes. Yeah. Thank you so much, Fred.
Senator McCain, you indicated that – your concern that Putin will not stop in Crimea, and I think your concerns are shared by many observers and analysts in Europe and the U.S. right now. So if this is the case that President Putin will not stop here and will most likely will take part of the eastern part of Ukraine, what could, should we do in this case? Second, Moldova and Georgia, what needs to be done by the trans-Atlantic alliance immediately in order to support these two countries? And thirdly, we are talking right now a couple of days before the EU-U.S. summit. Besides a stronger stand on sanctions, what is the key message that this summit of leaders should send to Moscow? Thank you.
SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you.
MR. KEMPE: Yeah, and Senator McCain, let me add to that. Let me just add to that, one of the key things coming up for the summit in the future is the whole question of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. And though it seems unrelated to the issues in Ukraine, the east, it’s really not because it’s really about a strategic unity of the trans-Atlantic relationship. So to Annette’s questions, what do we do if the actions in eastern Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, first of all, could I say, Fred, on TTP (ph) thing, I think it makes it even much, much more important than it was. We need to link the world’s two largest economies. We need to have much closer ties. And I think TTP (ph) in a – sort of a backhanded way would further isolate Vladimir Putin.
I agree with Annette that it’s not clear what Vladimir Putin is going to do, but he has got everything in place now so that he can move. It’s not a matter of a buildup and moving troops around. They’re on the border. They are already fomenting, you know, quote, disorder by provocateurs in places like Donestk and others. And I think his decision is going to be directly dictated by how much he thinks it will cost him. And that’s why I would right now be shipping small arms to Yatsenyuk and Ukrainians so at least they have some ability to defend themselves. Now, they’ve only got 6,000 troops. Let’s be realistic. But at least it might improve their morale and to know that we are giving them some assistance with which to defend themselves.
I worry about Moldova and Georgia, obviously because of the Article 5 aspect of membership in NATO. And one of the things that I would be dong also is looking at expediting their membership into NATO, at least the initial stages of it. And so I – you know, as I said, I predicted he would go to Crimea because of Sevastopol. Now, I think he is calculating the costs of further incitement and expansion of the – of his vision of Mother Russia. So I think the next few days or even week or so will be very crucial, and he – while he makes this calculation as to what the cost-benefit ratio will be to further expansion of his influence.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Senator. I think you’ll recognize the next name, Batu Kutelia, the former I believe defense minister of Georgia, now at the McCain Institute.
SEN. MCCAIN: Mmm hmm.
Q: OK. Thank you very much. My question is about the future strategy related to the crisis we have. And we in Georgia as well as Ukraine I’m sure often heard this term “strategic patience” while dealing with Russia. And there’s nothing wrong with strategic patience, only if there is a strategy. Without strategy, it’s just patience, and then it becomes real painful. So while next week President Obama will be in Brussels, and I guess it is his first visit while in the office in Brussels, what should be the major message he should deliver to show the U.S. leadership? Because I think without the leadership, there will be no strategy at all, and we might get an aggravation of the – of the crisis. So what should be the key message that President Obama should deliver in Brussels next week?
SEN. MCCAIN: First of all, I’m glad the president’s going there to Brussels. I say with some pride but I hope not arrogance that still the leadership role of the United States is critical to any action that might be taken by NATO. I would hope that his commitment message is we need to have a long-term strategy in order to contain the ambitions of Vladimir Putin. And we all agree that does not envision armed conflict, but it does mean the old line of Ronald Reagan’s, “peace through strength.” And it’s about time that our NATO partners, with the exception of Norway and Poland, started increasing their defense spending capabilities rather than continuously reducing them. But a message of solidarity throughout every member of NATO, particularly talking about not only the Baltics but also that although Moldova and Georgia are not under Article 5, that further aggression there would lead to repercussions.
But I also want to say again what I said at the beginning: We may think that the Cold War is over, we may think that the 19th century kind of Cold War strategies are done, but Vladimir Putin doesn’t. And we have to recognize that. And again, I do not envision armed conflict or a return to the kind of Cold War tensions that prevailed all during the post-war period, but I do predict to you that a realistic view of Vladimir Putin, his ambitions and his behavior is the best way to begin to counter and make too expensive any further territorial ambitions that he may have.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you for that. Turning now to the correspondent of the newspaper, Schweiz am Sonntag, Alan Cassidy.
Q: Hello, there. Moving away from sanctions just a little, I wanted to briefly get the Senator’s thoughts on the role that international organizations can play in trying to solve this conflict, particularly the OSCE under the presidency of Switzerland. What are your expectations for that, Senator?
SEN. MCCAIN: I would very much appreciate OSCE involvement. Correct me if I’m wrong, I believe the OSCE tried to move into Crimea and were rebuffed by Russian troops at the border. But I think the OSCE is a vital element. We should bring in every possible pressure towards a lessening of tensions and resolving what I believe, despite our focus on the missing airliner, is still a very, very serious crisis situation, which is not receded, even though it may have receded some from the – from the headlines.
OSCE has done a good job in many areas of the world, particularly where there have been regional conflicts or conflicts within a nation, and – such as the Armenia-Azerbaijan situation. And I would welcome it.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Senator McCain. We’ve got a number of people in the queue, but I think we’re going to have to turn to this for the last question, in – for respect to your time, Senator. So let me turn to Damon Wilson of the Atlantic Council, who you know well.
SEN. MCCAIN: Sure. Hi, Damon.
Q: Hi, Senator. How are you? You mentioned this already, that – I’m here in Brussels, actually. And there’s an interesting debate among many Europeans about the response to Putin’s actions in Ukraine, and many arguing that what we’re seeing in Georgia and Ukraine is part of the Western policy of provoking Russia by having pursued first NATO enlargement, membership action plans and then the EU integration association agreements.
And there’s a debate here about whether part of the lesson is back off of this. I think I know your views on this, but how do you think – (audio break) – opportunity now as part of this strategic response to what is happening in Ukraine, for both NATO and the EU, to take a look at the agenda that has basically been quiet – the enlargement agenda on both countries. And do you see this theme buried because of concern in Europe and Washington? Or is there a chance to re-energize it?
MR. KEMPE: And particularly with the Cardiff summit coming up in the U.K., of NATO.
SEN. MCCAIN: You know, Damon, there’s very few advantages of being around a long time, but one of them is to have a bit of perspective. Frankly, I heard this kind of – the same kind of thing during the Cold War. Let’s not provoke Russia. I can even remember when some respected individuals and commentators thought that we should not have a reunification of Germany because it would provoke Russia.
Those people that are arguing that the expansion of NATO somehow was provocative to Vladimir Putin, please explain to me how a defense alliance could possibly be, quote, “provocative”? These countries wanted to be in the alliance. They requested to be there for mutual security reasons. The fact that Vladimir Putin is acting the way he is, is because he wants to impose a rule by his country of a kratocracy of corruption, of – that the – that was the whole heart and soul of the Maidan that wanted to be part of Europe, not part of Russia.
And frankly, I’ve seen that – I’ve heard that song before of, well, we wouldn’t want to do anything to provoke. I think there’s one thing the history shows us, that the only way that we can prevent this kind of adventurism is if the price of adventurism that Putin is practicing is high enough that it’s not worth it to him. So to somehow say, gee, Mr. Putin, we’re sorry we provoked you by expanding NATO when countries requested to be part of an alliance – which has done a lot of good not only in Europe but outside of Europe since NATO has been an organization – I think is just, frankly, a very flimsy argument.
And again, you know, there is the echoes of – as my friend Radic Zarkovski (sp) said – of Anschluss – march into an area and have a plebiscite and 96 percent of the people will vote your way, particularly when they see the kind of voting procedure which is – which is employed. This is an act of naked aggression. And to use the expansion of NATO as an excuse to do that, I think, is incredibly either naïve or calculated to prevent us from acting. And again, history shows us that if actions like these taken by a nation go unresponded to, then that nation will be encouraged to further adventurism. And I promise you that that is the case with Vladimir Putin.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Senator McCain. So that brings us to the end of this very important call. I apologize to callers I didn’t get to. You know, the amount of people who queued up for today’s call and called it, it just shows both the interest in the subject and, obviously, the interest in Senator McCain and Senator Durbin. I want to thank Senator Durbin. We knew he might have to get off early for a pre-existing appointment. And we thank him very much for taking the time to go on, and also for joining the trip to Ukraine that was led by himself – led by Senator McCain and Senator Durbin.
Special thanks to Senator McCain, not only for joining this call, but for his service to our country and to the alliance and your consistent – your consistent voice on these sorts of crucial issues. Senator McCain, thank you very much.
SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you, Fred. Bye.
MR. KEMPE: Bye. And everyone, this call will be on the website and – in recorded form and – I think almost immediately or very quickly. So thanks, all, for joining us. And you’ll hear about more calls coming. Bye-bye.
OPERATOR: This now concludes today’s teleconference. You may now disconnect.