Senate: Act now to save Ukraine
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The Senate is divided on many issues, but on foreign policy – and especially on deterring Russian aggression and adventurism – there is broad consensus. As much as the next administration will test that resolve, the next six weeks may literally change the landscape – in Syria, as we are witnessing on a daily basis, and potentially in Ukraine – and the future of our post-War system.

Whether out of respect for the election results or more opportunistic ambitions, many senators will prefer to hold off on new legislation until Donald J. Trump is sworn in as president. But the 114th Congress is still in session, the legislation is not new, Russia is still on the march both virtually and militarily, and Mr. Trump is actively enabling the goals of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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And there's good reason to expect a President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' MORE will veto or entirely quash any legislation unfavorable to Russia, especially since it would have to be reintroduced in the new Congress. The last thing anyone – including President-Elect Trump – needs in the meantime is more Russian facts on the ground.

Earlier this year, the House adopted H.R. 5094, the Stability and Democracy (STAND) for Ukraine Act, a bipartisan bill that locks in the minimum underpinnings of the U.S. response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its violent occupation in parts of eastern Ukraine. This bill, co-authored by Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) converts some of the Obama administration’s executive actions into Public Law, which will be much harder for any future President to overturn. STAND also tightens current sanctions, extends the Magnitsky Act to all territories under Russian occupation, and would require the State Department to counter Russian propaganda and cyber-offensives. Taken as a package, it sets a strong but measured precedent and a baseline for the next Congress. 

So long as the President-elect isn't waiting to impact U.S. foreign policy, there's no reason for Congress to wait in placing markers to continue advancing U.S. interests. Since his election, Trump has already had at least two conversations with Putin, equal to the number of briefings he's agreed to receive from the U.S. intelligence community. Reportedly, the two leaders have agreed to normalize relations and have begun working out mutual arrangements on Syria, if not also on Ukraine.

As Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryA lesson of the Trump, Tlaib, Omar, Netanyahu affair Trump's winning weapon: Time The Memo: O'Rourke looks to hit reset button MORE grasps for some ceasefire, with any leverage or consequences undermined by Trump's unfolding rapprochement, Russia and its client Syria are moving quickly to solidify control. Thousands more are dying, and Russia consolidates its foothold in the Middle East. Shortly before Election Day, Trump even sent one of his sons to meet with a prominent pro-Russian member of Syria’s legislature.

We have seen how the Kremlin moved swiftly and brutally to exert itself in Syria just during the past few weeks, and there's every reason to expect a similar clearing of the decks in eastern Ukraine, and possibly the Baltic States. Just this week, Russia’s Defense Minister announced an additional 55,000 troops along the border with Ukraine.

The President-elect's financial entanglements and public statements regarding Russia, Ukraine and NATO also leave little hope of deterring a new Russian offensive. Every week between now and Inauguration Day – especially behind the smokescreen of Christmas and New Years – the only thing stopping Russia from deepening its military stranglehold is Putin’s own whim. And once Trump has taken office, especially if STAND is not already on the books, he can easily lift or waive many of the existing sanctions.

Even with nuclear weapons effectively off the table, deterrence is essential. Rather than granting Russia an easy victory in Ukraine, Trump’s alacrity may mislead Putin into thinking there will be no consequences. By indulging the Kremlin in advance of Jan. 20, even a President as conciliatory as Donald Trump may find he’s eroded our deterrence to the point where he unintentionally encourages a Russian attack – with an unavoidable and devastating NATO response.

Unlike new sanctions on Iran or restrictions or 9/11 lawsuits against Saudi Arabia, STAND is the kind of legislation President Obama is unlikely to veto. This marks a last chance for the cause promoted by leading Republicans like Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death Anti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid McCain's family, McCain Institute to promote #ActsOfCivility in marking first anniversary of senator's death MORE (Arizona) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (Tennessee), who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee but may have been reluctant to sign off while being considered by Trump for Secretary of State.

Like many of his fellow Republicans, Corker previously criticized the Obama administration for not standing up to Putin, typically telling one interviewer that we “need to show what we ourselves are going to do relative to strengthening the ability of Eastern Europe to stand up to…aggression by Russia.” Whoever Trump picks to be his top diplomat, there is no reason to think that person will be empowered to stand up to Russian threats – nor will the 115th Congress.

Waiting to act on H.R. 5094, against the sunset of U.S. resolve in Europe, would be remembered not as prudence or propriety, but as one of the Senate’s more reckless choices.

Shai Franklin is CEO of Your Global Strategy, a registered Foreign Agent on behalf of Ukraine-based clients. Twitter: @shaifranklin


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.