By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson heard and saw firsthand the stories of courage in Ukraine.
The Wisconsin Republican, back from a Senate fact-finding mission in Kiev, learned of sniper attacks on Ukrainians protesting Russia’s hasty campaign to bring Crimea into the former Soviet mother country’s fold.
“Police (sympathetic to Russia) started backing up the hill, basically luring the protesters into the killing zone to do an ambush,” Johnson told Wisconsin Reporter. “… The Ukrainians didn’t flee. They stood their ground. That type of courage really needs to be supported.”
Unfortunately, Johnson said, the world hasn’t seen such courage in U.S. foreign policy, weakened by an Obama administration that has been loath to act against threats to liberty.
“To me, the last five years we have followed,” the senator said. “When America doesn’t lead, the world is a more dangerous place, and right now we’re seeing that play out in Crimea and Ukraine.”
President Obama did impose sanctions on Russian officials, including threats of seizing their U.S. assets. Russia laughed off the penalties, which offered little resistance in Moscow’s annexation of the strategically critical Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.
“If you’re going to seize somebody’s assets, you don’t give them two or three weeks’ notice before you do it. Those assets have gone someplace else, I’m sure,” said Johnson, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Russia responded in kind on Thursday, slapping U.S. officials with sanctions amid disintegrating diplomacy between the Russian government and the West. The tit-for-tat penalties would bar House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., among others, from traveling to Russia.
McCain mocked back.
“I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off, my Gazprom stock is lost, and my secret bank account in Moscow is frozen,” McCain said in a statement, adding that “he will never cease my efforts on behalf of the freedom, independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea.”
Russia President Vladimir Putin said in televised remarks at Friday’s session of the presidential Security Council that his nation has no further plans to retaliate against the United States and sardonically said he would open an account in the Russian bank targeted by the latest U.S. sanctions, according to Fox News.
Johnson supports sending small arms and other assistance to help the Western-backed Ukrainian government against Russia’s power grab, although he stops short of suggesting U.S. military involvement.
Asked by Wisconsin Reporter if he thought such a move would escalate tensions and bring the United States and Russia to the brink of war, Johnson said he understands the matter is a “gray area.” But the senator said Ukrainian courage in fighting for freedom for a “corrupt-free democracy” ought to be supported by freedom-loving people.
“The least we can do is help them with small arms and ammunition, to not only help them, but to send a strong signal to Russia that we will help freedom-seeking people, that we will not stand by while Vladimir Putin continues to act this way with impunity,” he said.
Johnson said it’s time the United States hit Russia where it lives, urging Obama to unleash America’s energy potential. Putin’s power, Johnson said, is in the rich oil and gas resources Russia holds over the Ukraine and much of the European Union.
“We need to weaken his hand by opening up our markets,” he said.
But the Obama administration has dragged its feet on expanding U.S. liquefied natural gas, or LNG, exports. More than 20 export license applications are pending at the U.S. Department of Energy. One application has been held up for more than two years.
As a Wall Street Journal editorial this week put it, the DOE’s “case-by-case” review process is the “bureaucratic term for forever.”
Perhaps loosening the constrictive red tape doesn’t fit with Obama’s climate change manifesto, but doing so could make a significant difference in geopolitics — a game Johnson asserts the United States is losing.
“The U.S. has more responses to Vladimir Putin’s adventure in the Crimea than the no-options caucus suggests, including a few that weren’t possible even a few years ago,” the Wall Street Journal editorial insists. “Namely, a President with a keener strategic mind would unleash North American oil and gas on the world.”
Contact M.D. Kittle at [email protected]