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Update - McCain: full U.S. support for allies

Apr 15, 2014
TBT staff, RIGA

If every nation of the world would behave as Russia does, in invading or threatening to invade another country in order to protect Russian-speakers, we would have endless conflict around the globe, said U.S. Senator John McCain at a press conference today, April 15, in Riga. He was responding to a question on whether it is acceptable for Russia to invade another country on the pretext of protecting fellow Russian-speakers. “It would be a gross violation of international law,” added the senator.

A delegation of U.S.senators, led by Senator McCain, together with U.S. Senators John Barrasso and Senator John Hoeven are on a visit to Latvia from April 15 to April 16. The three senators had just concluded a meeting with Latvian President Andris Berzins, who participated in the press conference.

The senators are meeting with allies to get a better understanding of concerns and options surrounding the destabilizing behavior, according to Berzins, being carried out now by Russia in Ukraine.

McCain said that in these “challenging times, [our trip] is a reaffirmation of support to Latvia, and the Latvian people.”

The issue today, he went on, is “Russia’s aggression in the Crimea and Ukraine.” Will Russian President Vladimir Putin continue his current campaign? McCain asked.

The senator stated that Ukraine now needs support, in the form of defensive weapons such as body armor, night vision equipment; essentially “weapons to defend themselves.” And additional sanctions may be called for if President Putin doesn’t pull his troops back from the border, and out of eastern Ukraine.

A show of support to the Baltics would include military exercises in the region, and more training.

What McCain was clear in this comments was that Putin needs to fully understand America’s commitment to defending its Baltic allies. “There are consequences for [Putin’s] behavior, both in the short and long term,” he said.

“I want to send a clear signal to [Putin] that his behavior is not acceptable in the 21st century.”

Senator McCain added that though there will be no U.S.military bases established in the Baltics, the visit is also to make clear to Putin that he has already crossed the line of acceptable behavior.

“I will never recognize” Russia’s takeover of the Crimea; “Russia has broken its 1994 agreement,” stated the senator. This agreement – the Budapest Memorandums on Security Assurances – was meant to peacefully dismantle Ukraine's huge nuclear arsenal after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The presidents of Ukraine, the Russian Federation and the U.S., and the prime minister of the UK signed three memorandums, with the accession of Ukraine to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Through this agreement, these countries gave national security assurances to Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, specifically with respect to the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.

Senator John Hoeven, speaking to the press, said that the three senators were here to get the “facts on the ground, input from leaders. [We] need a comprehensive response to Putin.”

Working from a united front, Hoeven added that the “U.S. needs to work through the EU and Nato.”

Deterrents applied to Russia need to include “economic, political and diplomatic” sanctions, he said. The U.S. is looking for markets for its energy exports, and can provide more to Europe. This can serve to weaken Putin, he offered.

The current events in Ukraine have served to “reinvigorate Nato,” said the senator.

Senator John Barrasso spoke of the need for an “immediate response, that shows the strength and force” available to encourage Russia to stop its aggression. This is “the only thing Putin understands.”

To counter Russia’s moves against its peaceful neighbor, in support of the Baltics and Ukraine, efforts “will take time, capital and political will,” said Barrasso. “We have to make sure this will is maintained.”

After the April 15 press conference the senators visited Adazi military base to observe joint training involving U.S., Latvian, and Estonian troops. On April 16, the senators are to visit Saeima and meet with MPs. Participating in the meetings will be representatives from each political party represented at parliament.

This 2-day visit to Latvia is part of a larger regional visit, which also includes stops in Norway, Estonia, Lithuania and Moldova, said the U.S. Embassy in a press release.

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