Republicans have been assailed by the White House for criticizing the Obama administration’s policy toward the crisis in Ukraine without putting forward positive proposals. That criticism is increasingly untenable as a result of the efforts of an old Cold Warrior, Senator Dan Coats.
Coats, who returned to the Senate in 2010 after a long absence, brings with him his experience as a young Congressman and Senator during the Cold War, as well as a stint as Ambassador to Germany during the 2000’s. Like many Republicans, Coats criticized the Obama administration’s response to the Ukrainian crisis: “The American response must be much greater than a verbal slap if we want Putin to understand his actions in Ukraine are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Unlike most of his recently elected colleagues, Coats’ long and varied experience in foreign policy gives him a much better handle on what has happened and what needs to be done. He recognized that, particularly as it relates to foreign policy, the American public needs to be convinced. Thus, he went about writing several editorials for local and national press alike, explaining what was at stake in Crimea, namely, the verdict of World War II, and the possibility of such a small conflict to grow and metastasize if not confronted.
Yet speeches and editorials were not enough. As Coats himself put it, the crisis required more than a verbal slap. He worked with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), to pass a resolution which condemned the seizure of Crimea and called on Russia to be suspended from the G-8, which passed unanimously, and also championed an amendment to a foreign aid bill which would have ratcheted up sanctions on Russian arms dealers. Coats then introduced the Crimea Annexation Non-Recognition Act of 2014, which was really the first strategic plan proposed in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The bill firmly establishes that the U.S. does not recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, will not be party to any international effort that gives aid to Crimea through Russia, makes illegal any investment on the part of U.S. businesses in Crimea, and cracks down on Crimean shipping. It also requires the DOJ and DOD to take steps to ensure no legal recognition occurs in related areas of domestic and international law.
Other Senators took notice, reminded that all foreign policy initiatives need not come from the White House. Coats took notice of these efforts as well, joining with Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to propose the Russian Aggression Prevention Act, which also refused to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, granted significant foreign aid to the Ukrainian military, allowed for more natural gas sales to the region, and finally greatly increases sanctions on Russian banks, pressure that has the potential to do real economic damage.
The bill was written as if the Senators “were sitting in the White House,” according to Senator Corker. Senator Coats was more direct: “The lack of a forceful, effective response by the administration and Western leaders has given Putin little reason to expect that further aggression will be punished. We are introducing tough diplomatic, economic, and financial sanctions, and I am hopeful that President Obama will support our effort.”