By Igor Kossov and Liliane Bivings
July 9, 2021
When Joe Biden won the U.S. presidential election in November, Ukrainian leaders grew excited.
Perhaps now, they thought, the country’s biggest ally against Russia would be squarely in Ukraine’s corner. Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s promises of support stoked hope that the U.S. would crack down on Russian attempts to weaken and isolate Ukraine.
But soon, these hopes were shaken when the Biden administration waived sanctions on the main consortium building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline through the Baltic Sea. Many also saw Biden’s subsequent meeting with Vladimir Putin as wishy-washy, leaving Ukraine’s future uncertain.
Fortunately, Ukraine has several dozen advocates from both the Democrat and Republican parties in both houses of the U. S. Congress. These lawmakers have pressured the American government to increase military and civilian aid to Ukraine and sanction companies working for Russia against Ukraine’s interests.
The Kyiv Post has put together a list of them.
Congressional Ukrainian Caucus
The Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, or the CUC, was formed in June 1997, six years after Ukraine declared its independence.
From the outset, its mission has been “to organize an association of members of Congress who share a common concern for building stronger bilateral relations between Ukraine and the United States.”
And if the Biden administration has disappointed its Ukrainian allies lately, representatives in the House Ukrainian Caucus have been working hard on Capitol Hill to secure more security funding for Ukraine and to make sure that Nord Stream 2 is never filled with gas.
On July 2, a House panel, led by Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio’s 9th district, passed an amendment to repeal the U. S. State Department’s waiver on Nord Stream 2 sanctions. “These sanctions are mandatory, not discretionary,” Kaptur said after the amendment passed. The House panel passed it unanimously on a bipartisan basis. The bill will go to the House floor for a full vote before the end of session in September.
In June, the House passed a bill to increase funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative from $250 million in 2020 to $275 million in 2021.
According to Kaptur, these funds are critical “to deter further Russian incursions on Ukrainian sovereignty and protect Europe’s eastern flank from Kremlin aggression that has already caused the deaths of over 14,000 and the displacement of millions more.”
The CUC is also fighting corruption in Ukraine. On June 22, CUC leadership released a letter, suggesting that Austria’s judiciary had been corrupted by Dmytro Firtash, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen. The co-chairs demanded more be done to force the extradition of the Ukrainian oligarch from Austria to the United States.
Marcy Kaptur, Democratic congresswoman from Ohio’s congressional 9th district
Marcy Kaptur visited Ukraine for the first time in 1975 on a “family visitation” visa with her mother to find her grandparents’ village. Kaptur and her mother drove much of the way from Paris by car; in Ukraine, they traveled by train to dive deeper into the country where the roads were impassable. Since then, Kaptur has returned to Ukraine numerous times. “Some of the greatest trips of my life have been to Ukraine,” Kaptur told the Kyiv Post.
Since that first trip, Kaptur, the longest-serving female member of Congress, has remained a staunch supporter of Ukraine. In the eighties, even before co-founding the CUC, Kaptur was involved in and supported a Congressional commission set up to recognize the Holodomor, a Soviet genocide of Ukrainian people.
In 1997, Kaptur co-founded the CUC. Kaptur says of the decision to create the caucus that while very little attention was paid to Ukraine at the time, she knew from her travels how vital Ukraine was for world history. “I didn’t want (Ukraine) in the hands of people who would exploit it and I didn’t want history to repeat itself,” she said
Over her more than 30-year career in Congress, Kaptur grew confident of Congress’s ability to support Ukraine. “Administrations come and go, but Congress is an equal branch of our government and Congress has been fighting for Ukraine for 30 years,” she said.
As a member of the House Defense Committee, Kaptur was also part of the coalition that increased Ukraine’s security assistance by $10 million in the State Foreign Operations bill.
If anyone doubts Biden’s commitment to Ukraine, Kaptur remains confident that the U.S. president knows how much Ukraine means to our country and to liberty around the world. “I have high hopes for the Biden administration and for what we can do together— Congress and the executive branch,” she said.
Brian Fitzpatrick, Republican congressman from Pennsylvania’s 1st congressional district
Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican member of Congress from Pennsylvania’s 1st congressional district, first came to Kyiv in 2015 as an FBI officer.
As a specialist in anti-corruption at the FBI, the agency sent Fitzpatrick to Ukraine as part of the efforts to establish good governance in the country following the EuroMaidan Revolution. During his time in Ukraine, he helped to set up the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), considered the most effective and independent anti-corruption body.
The member of Congress has been publicly vocal about his opposition to the former Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Viktor Shokin, who was ousted in 2016 by Ukraine’s parliament, saying that Shokin “was not cooperative with the FBI’s anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine and posed a hindrance regarding investigative matters.”
In 2016, Fitzpatrick left the FBI to run for Congress where he serves as co-chair of the CUC. He has received several awards and speaking invitations from various Ukrainian groups. “The US is a beacon of democracy across the world,” Representative Fitzpatrick said at the time. “Our
foreign policy has to reflect that and continue to empower the Ukrainian people as you all seek your own reforms for prosperity, equality, and transparency.”
Mike Quigley, Democratic congressman from Illinois’s 5th congressional district
In 2019, Congressman Mike Quiqley, a Democrat from Illinois’s fifth congressional district was appointed to serve as co-chair of the CUC, after many years as a member. “Through several visits to Ukraine, my position on the House Intelligence and Appropriations Committees, and my representation of a prominent and active Ukrainian-American community, I’ve seen firsthand the importance of a strong U.S.-Ukraine relationship,” Quigley said of his appointment to co-chair in 2019.
Last year, Quigley, along with Kaptur, sent a letter to President Volodymyr Zelensky, calling on the Ukrainian president to proceed with a “consensual approach” in talks with wind and solar energy producers in the wake of a months-long dispute with green energy producers that threatens foreign investment.
Andy Harris, Republican congressman from Maryland’s 1st congressional district
Representative Andy Harris, a Republican congressman from Maryland’s 1st district, has been a member of Congress since 2010, and currently serves as co-chair of the CUC. Harris’s mother comes from Ukraine and is largely his inspiration for supporting Ukraine.
Harris has remained firm in condemning Russia’s aggression in Ukraine since the 2014 annexation of Crimea as well as the war in the Donbas, sponsoring the House resolution, “Calling on the Russian Federation to stop the violence in Ukraine” in 2017.
Despite his vocal support for Ukraine, in 2019 Harris repeated unsupported claims that then-Vice President Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to fire its top prosecutor to squash an investigation into Hunter Biden’s business activities in Ukraine.
Allies in the Senate
Ukraine has allies in the U. S. Senate as well, particularly among ranking members of the important Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Recently, committee members introduced and approved the bipartisan Ukraine Security Partnership Act. This draft law provides for grants, loans and military training aid to Ukraine through fiscal year 2026.
The act would authorize $300 million in foreign military financing, of which $150 million would be subject to conditions. It also contains provisions to assist with Ukraine’s political and economic reforms.
Jim Risch, a Republican senator from Idaho, a supporter of Trump and opponent of Biden was lead sponsor of the bill.
In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, he attacked Biden for not being tougher on Putin, pointing out that the Russian leader’s disregard of international norms has intensified in the first half of 2021.
“Dialogue for the sake of dialogue will only grant Putin the validation he craves,” he wrote, in reference to Biden’s summit with Putin. “Honest dialogue cannot take place until Putin’s actions demonstrate his willingness to engage in good-faith diplomacy.”
Bob Menendez, the Democratic senator from New Jersey and the committee chair co-sponsored the legislation. He has been an outspoken ally of Ukraine for a long time, during the presidencies of Barack Obama and Trump.
“As Putin continues to escalate the situation along the border with Ukraine, we are speaking with one voice in reaffirming our steadfast support to the people of Ukraine and our commitment to protect our national security interests and our closest partners,” he stated in March, when Russia’s latest massive troop buildup on the borders of Ukraine was beginning.
Menendez previously sponsored the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014, which was also co-sponsored by 14 other senators and passed to address Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It envisaged U.S. support for Ukraine to restore its sovereignty and territorial integrity and deterrence of Russia’s further destabilization of Ukraine and other countries.
Unlike Risch and some fellow Republicans, Menendez praised Biden’s summit, saying the onus is now on Putin to back down from his “malign activities” in Ukraine.
Other senators who participated in the bill’s introduction included Rob Portman (R-OH), Chris Murphy (D-CT.), John Barrasso (R-WY), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).
Shaheen, Portman and Murphy traveled to Ukraine in June to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and other top officials and civil society heads to reaffirm American support.
The bipartisan committee said it would continue looking for ways to stop the imminent completion of Nord Stream 2 and try to prevent the pipeline from becoming operational.
Ted Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, introduced an amendment trying to force the State Department to determine whether 20 ships, including the Akademik Cherskiy, Umka and Errieit should be sanctioned for helping build Nord Stream 2.
More recently, Cruz has moved to block all State Department nominations to pressure the Biden administration over Russia’s pipeline. Thirteen nominees have been held up indefinitely unless the administration decides to reverse its waiver on sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 consortium.
Even so, Cruz had previously spread debunked conspiracy theories about supposed Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, in aid of Trump, a fellow Republican.
Cruz, Shaheen, Barasso and Tom Cotton (R-AR) considered a sanctions bill against the companies involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2 as early as 2019. After the legislation passed in December 2019, construction halted temporarily but later resumed, in light of Russia’s determination to get it done at all costs.