Portman Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal: How Biden Can Stand Up to Putin in Geneva

June 10, 2021 | Portman Difference

In a new op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Senator Portman discusses his recent bipartisan congressional delegation (CODEL) to Eastern Europe, where he met with leaders from Lithuania, Ukraine, and Georgia and with Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is currently living in Lithuania. While there, Portman observed that Baltic and Eastern European countries are facing increasing pressure from Russia, including military threats on their borders, cyberattacks and political disinformation campaigns. In Ukraine and Georgia, Russia continues to occupy and militarize territory it annexed illegally.

Portman provides a thorough analysis on the situation and calls on President Biden to send a strong message against Russian aggression in the region when he meets with President Putin in the coming days.

Excerpts of the op-ed can be found below and the full op-ed can be found here.

How Biden Can Stand Up to Putin in Geneva

By U.S. Senator Rob Portman

Wall Street Journal

I traveled to Eastern Europe last week with a small, bipartisan group of senators to meet with the leaders of Ukraine, Lithuania and Georgia. These former Soviet republics have become reliable U.S. allies as their citizens have sought a democratic future with greater freedom and prosperity. But they need our help.

The U.S. must continue to stand with democracies under threat and opposed to Russia’s tyranny. When President Biden meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva later this month, he must take a strong stand for freedom, democracy and human rights. The free world will be watching.

Specifically, Mr. Biden must raise the May 23 hijacking of a passenger airliner by Belarusian security forces. In a clear violation of international law, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, an economic client of Mr. Putin’s, ordered his fighter jets to ground the plane forcibly so police could seize Roman Protasevich, a prominent Belarusian journalist and critic of the government, and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.

Mr. Putin has it in his power to denounce Mr. Lukashenko’s actions and remove all Russian troops from Belarus. Words from U.S. leaders are important but not enough. Mr. Biden should impose sanctions targeted at the Lukashenko regime. I called for this when I was in the region last week because it would send the signal that America means what it says.

At the coming summit the president must also confront Mr. Putin over Ukraine. Russia’s latest buildup of military forces in Crimea and Donbas is illegal, and despite Mr. Putin’s claims to the contrary, the great majority of Russian-aligned forces remain in the region. It is in Russia’s interest to see Ukraine struggle, so Mr. Putin will stay the course until America and its allies push back in Ukraine’s defense.

The best way for Mr. Biden to help Ukraine now is to reverse his decision to waive the congressionally mandated sanctions against Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. The pipeline runs under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine. It would increase Europe’s dependence on Russian gas supplies and hurt Ukraine by depriving it of billions of dollars in transit fees. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in March that the administration believed the pipeline was “a bad idea.”

Finally, while in Georgia, I visited the administrative boundary line with South Ossetia and witnessed firsthand Russia’s occupation of Georgian territory and its continued “borderization” efforts to legitimize an illegal annexation. Georgia is one of America’s closest allies in the region, so Russia’s actions should be concerning.

Getting both countries on the path to NATO membership would help protect them against Russia’s aggression. There is bipartisan support in Congress for those in Eastern Europe fighting for a democratic future, but Russia will continue to place obstacles in their way. Mr. Biden should address this forcefully at the coming summit. Strong American leadership will unite the free world in pushing back against Russia’s malign behavior.