Indeed, the House version, H.R. 5859, was introduced earlier the same day and approved by a sparse crowd late at night. The Senate legislation, S. 2828, passed on a voice vote. The measures sanction Russian weapons exports and oil production imports, and financial institutions which facilitate the such transactions; target Gazprom if it “is withholding significant” gas supplies from specified states; provide money to “strengthen democratic institutions and political and civil society organizations” in Russia; bar the lifting of sanctions so long as Moscow supports groups undermining “the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine”; boost financial transfers to Kiev; order U.S. officials to work with Ukraine to solve such problems as electricity and fuel shortages; authorize weapons transfers to Kiev; and increase funds for government Russian‐language broadcasting services.
Congress appears determined to turn an adversary into a forthright enemy and encourage retaliation against more significant American interests. Observed my Cato Institute colleague Emma Ashford: “the provisions in this bill will make it all the more difficult to find a negotiated settlement to the Ukraine crisis, or to find a way to salvage any form of productive U.S.-Russia relationship. No wonder Congress didn’t want to debate it openly.” President Barack Obama expressed some concerns about the bill, but is expected to sign it.
Unfortunately, the legislation offers a belligerent foretaste of what to expect from the incoming Republican Senate. The legislation’s chief sponsor was Sen. Bob Corker (R‐Tenn.), slated to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His earlier proposal, “The Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014,” was even more confrontational, providing for greater sanctions on Russia, more military aid for Ukraine, and intelligence sharing with Kiev; conferring “major non‐NATO ally status” on Georgia and Moldova as well as Ukraine; expanding “training, assistance and defense cooperation” with Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, and Serbia, as well as Kiev; mandating non‐recognition of Russian annexation of Crimea; and subsidizing energy development in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. As chairman he is likely to encourage equally misguided military meddling elsewhere.
Ukraine has suffered through a tortured history. It was ruled by Moscow, both the Russian Empire and Soviet Union, for centuries. After World War I Ukraine was briefly independent and gained Galician territory from the defunct Austro‐Hungarian Empire, but was reconquered by the Bolsheviks. Only after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991 did Kiev achieve more enduring nationhood, and then it suffered through corrupt, authoritarian, and incompetent governance.
Russian‐Ukrainian relations were sometimes difficult, yet Kiev consistently accommodated Russia, which retained strong economic and cultural ties with much of the population. Despite the lack of any direct interest in Ukraine’s status, Washington openly intervened in Kiev’s political struggles, including through taxpayer‐funded NGOs. The U.S. backed Viktor Yushchenko in the so‐called Orange Revolution in 2005. He proved to be querulous and ineffective and was trounced in the 2010 race by the man he had earlier defeated, Viktor Yanukovich.
The egregiously corrupt Yanukovich in turn was ousted by protests backed by rabid and sometimes violent nationalists. The U.S. and Europe flaunted their support for the opposition. Indeed, American officials openly discussed their investment in Yanukovich’s overthrow and who should take power after his ouster. That Moscow would be unhappy at what looked like a Western‐orchestrated putsch against a friendly (and even elected!) president in a nation considered vital to Russia’s security should have surprised no one.
Russian President Vladimir Putin still was not justified in dismembering Ukraine, but America would have reacted badly had Moscow helped overthrow a Washington‐friendly government in Mexico. Putin acted to defend what he saw as Russian interests, not to challenge U.S. security. It might shock some Americans, especially those on Capitol Hill, but not everything that happens in the world is about the U.S. Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine was all about Russia.
While Americans, especially ethnic Ukrainians, care about Ukraine’s fate, it is not a serious security interest for the U.S. America got along quite well over the centuries when Kiev was ruled from Moscow. Who runs the Donbass or Crimea is even less important to Washington today. The Ukrainian conflict raises humanitarian concerns, but no different than those elsewhere around the globe.