Thursday, March 20, 2014

Talking Tough on Russia

By Reginald Johnson


               U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., insists he hasn’t done a flip-flop on his approach to foreign policy, with the hard-line stance he’s taken towards Russia in the current Ukraine crisis.

      Murphy won praise from progressives while he was in the House of Representatives for his opposition to the Iraq War and for his stand last year against military action in Syria following his election to the Senate.

      But now Murphy has endorsed a package of tough sanctions the Obama administration has set down to punish Russia, following that nation’s annexation of Crimea, a section of the Ukraine along the Black Sea where the Russian navy has its fleet. The Russians moved troops into Crimea following a coup d’etat in Ukraine, in which a pro-Russian leadership group was ousted by a pro-Western faction.

   The Connecticut lawmaker has traveled to Ukraine with conservative and hawkish Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, to investigate conditions in that nation and express support for the new government.

   “My position is not inconsistent. I am not an isolationist,” Murphy told about 60 people at a “Town Hall Meeting” in New Haven this week.

   Murphy said while he is “skeptical” of the U.S. ever getting involved militarily in Ukraine, he believes that penalties on Russia are essential, to send a message to Russian leader Vladimir Putin that territorial encroachment would not be tolerated.

   “You cannot allow a precedent to be set,” Murphy said, saying that if the west didn’t respond forcefully now, there will be more encroachments and more attempts “to reset borders” in the future.

   “This may not be the end. Kiev may be the target,” he said.

  Murphy got a respectful hearing at the meeting, which took place in the East Rock School. His remarks criticizing Russia drew applause several times from people in the audience, some of whom were Ukrainian-Americans. One man said there was a good bit of propaganda coming from the Russian side these days about the situation in Ukraine, similar to the propaganda put out in the old Soviet Union. He also questioned the validity of the referendum vote in Crimea recently, in which residents there voted overwhelmingly to join with Russia.

   But a number of other speakers criticized U.S. policy and challenged the senator on his stances. Stanley Heller of West Haven pointed out that a group of people in the new government were neo-fascists, from either the Svoboda Party or Right Sector. He said that he had seen a picture of Murphy standing with one of the more controversial figures.

   Murphy said a photo had been taken of him in a group shot “with about 50 people” and he was not fully aware at the time who was on the stage.

  Later, the senator said, he and others talked to the individual and expressed their deep concern about any fascistic or anti-semitic remarks, and indicated they were unacceptable.

   Richard Hill of New Haven  said that various factors are not being taken into account in understanding how Russia is concerned about developments in Ukraine. Hill spoke of the United States’ meddling in the politics of Ukraine, leading up to the coup.

   “Would we want that kind of meddling (by the Russians) going on in Canada or Mexico?” he asked.

  Hill also criticized the American press for failing to point out that Russia is concerned from a security standpoint with the expansion of NATO’s borders. Breaking a pledge made by American officials to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 ---- that NATO would not expand following the dissolution of the Soviet Union ---  NATO has gone ahead and expanded.  The Cold War organization formed in 1949 to defend western Europe from any possible Soviet aggression, has brought in new members from the old Soviet bloc, and NATO’s borders have moved further east towards Russia.

   Should Ukraine join, it would mean NATO would be lined up all along the Russian border.
    Others questioned whether America’s motives in Ukraine were really about building democracy as proclaimed, but instead about economic or other interests. Megan Iorio said the U.S. record of supporting dictatorships in Latin America, and failing to support democratic protests in places like Bahrain,  cast doubt on American pledges of wanting to build democracy in Ukraine.

  Some in the audience rebutted the claims about any anti-semitism going on now in Ukraine, or any discrimination against Jews being promoted by members of the new government. One woman said the “chief rabbi in Ukraine” said that Jewish life in Ukraine is “flourishing.”

   Murphy said he welcomed input from constitutents on Ukraine and other issues, and wants to hear different points of view. He said if people thought the senator would benefit from reading some article, they can send in the reference through his website.


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