In Interview with NPR, Portman and Shaheen Discuss Their Bipartisan CODEL to Eastern Europe, Biden-Putin Summit

June 9, 2021 | Press Releases

Today, Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) joined Mary Louise Kelly on NPR’s All Things Considered to discuss their recent congressional delegation (CODEL) to Eastern Europe where they met with leaders from Lithuania, Ukraine, and Georgia to reaffirm U.S. commitment to regional partners and strengthen democratic reforms.

While in Lithuania, they also met with Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya to discuss the Lukashenko regime’s increasing human rights abuses against political opposition. Today, Tsikhanouskaya testified at a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Portman and Shaheen are both members, to discuss the Lukashenko regime and the U.S. policy on Belarus. Portman and Shaheen agreed that the U.S. needs to place sectoral sanctions on the country to make the biggest impact on the regime.

The senators also touched on the upcoming Biden-Putin summit, set to take place on June 16, recommending that President Biden take a hardline stance against the aggressive actions being taken by Russia and President Putin against other countries in Eastern Europe.

Excerpts of the interview can be found below and you can listen to the interview here.

PORTMAN ON WHAT THE U.S. CAN DO TO PUSH BACK AGAINST BELARUS:

“Well part of the leverage we have is, as I said, simply to let people know in this part of the world, these young democracies who have turned to the west who want to get away from the dependency on Russia and instead want to turn towards freedom and democracy and free markets, rule of law, transparency, that we are with them. And I think that is an important message, in and of itself. Second, I do think that the sanctions that have been put in place have worked fairly well. Probably not as well as they could have if, in fact, we were able to put sanctions in place on some of the state-owned enterprises that would affect the Lukashenko regime more directly. With regard to Belarus, we got advice while we were there about the possibility of additional sanctions and how they should be structured around these key sectors of the economy and we heard that again today.”

PORTMAN ON MEETING WITH SVYATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA:

“We were in Lithuania because we couldn’t go into Belarus. We had a military aircraft. But we did have a good meeting in person with Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and she is so impressive. I mean this is a woman who was not involved at all in politics. Her husband was jailed during the presidential election because they were concerned about him and intimidated by him and the possibility of his winning, so she decided to run, and along with two other women, have really formed this opposition group and she is a brave and courageous woman who has no personal ambition in terms of politics but does care a lot about her country. She’s a great patriot and that was so clear in talking to her.”

PORTMAN ON PRESIDENT BIDEN’S FORTHCOMING MEETING WITH PRESIDENT PUTIN:

“Well we were in three countries, as you say. One was Lithuania, where we focused on the Belarus situation. But second, we did go to Ukraine and then third to Georgia. In all three countries what is happening is there is additional pressure being applied by Russia. Some of it is military. Some of it is disinformation. Some of it is cyberattacks. And the president, when he meets with Vladimir Putin, needs to be sure and raise all these issues...

“There are three things that actually would get the attention of President Putin. One is to be sure that our allies are also holding a firm line. So as tough as the president needs to be, and I hope he will be, it’s also important that he say, ‘I’m not in this alone.’ And in fact every freedom-loving country ought to be having the same reaction to this. It is unbelievable. Here we are in the 21st century and you have a country that has violated sovereign borders, taken over parts of countries in the case of Ukraine and Georgia, and continues to militarize those areas and violate human rights. So everybody needs to stand up and that includes our EU friends who are looking for more natural gas.”

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