WASHINGTON — As European leaders met Monday, six key US senators wrote to press them to continue sanctions on Russia to force Moscow to adhere to the Minsk ceasefire deal.
Citing a recent surge of ceasefire violations, the lawmakers, led by the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin of Maryland, sent a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk to ask that the European Union maintain "transatlantic solidarity in the face of Russia's blatant disregard for its Minsk commitments and continued illegal occupation of Crimea."
Monday's letter came on the same day as an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, and it follows public comments suggesting that sanctions renewal is a foregone conclusion. Underlining that likelihood, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly said Monday that Merkel stands by her view that European sanctions against Russia can only be undone once Moscow fully implements the Minsk peace deal for eastern Ukraine.
Western leaders have accused Russia of directly supporting separatists, a charge Russian leaders deny, and the West has linked progress on the Minsk deal to end of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg last week warned the Minsk deal was barely holding, as he said, "The ceasefire is violated again and again."
"Sanctions relief is tied to Russia's progress implementing the Minsk ceasefire agreements," the letter reads. "Given the severity of Russia's ongoing violations and continuing aggression against Ukraine, including its occupation of Crimea in complete contravention of international law and norms, we urge the European Council to extend sanctions against Russia until it fully complies with its international commitments."
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., participates in a Senate Foreign relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, March 10, 2015, in Washington. The committee was hearing from us government officials on the situation in Ukraine.
Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Lawmakers provided a laundry list of Russian-seperatist offenses, including the resumption of banned artillery and the June 2 downing of a drone meant to monitor the ceasefire. They cited Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission reports stating at least 122 Ukrainian military personnel have been killed and more than 700 have been injured since the announcement of a Sept. 1 ceasefire. They also complained Russia has not withdrawn heavy weapons, and Russian-separatist forces continue to deny access to OSCE ceasefire monitors.
In a June 7 Senate hearing, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland told senators the State Department was "working intensively" to ensure EU sanctions are extended, and that it is supporting France and Germany as they lead the diplomatic push for full implementation of the Minsk agreements, "including the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine and the return of Ukraine's sovereign border."
To counter Russian pressure, the administration has requested $787 million in aid to partners in the region, Nuland said. To help Ukraine, the U.S. has committed more than $600 million in security assistance, trained 1,700 Ukrainian troops, provided counter-artillery and counter-mortar radars, and delivered more than 3,000 secure radios.
Joe Gould is the Congress and industry reporter at Defense News, covering defense budget and policy matters on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.