Verbatim, as delivered
September 9, 2008
Opening Statement by Chairman Howard
L. Berman at hearing, “U.S.-Russia Relations in the Aftermath of the Georgia
Today we consider the future of U.S. relations with Russia
in the aftermath of the crisis that erupted with sudden ferocity in the Republic of Georgia five weeks ago.
But before looking ahead, we also
need to look back more than five weeks to understand what role U.S. policy toward Russia
played in setting the stage for these events.
Over the last few months, the international
community watched with increasing concern as the Russian government sought to
provoke Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili
through an escalating series of questionable legal and military actions. Russia established official ties
with the separatist government in Abkhazia, issuing passports and citizenship
to its residents. Then Moscow dispatched a military jet to down a
Georgian reconnaissance craft, and it deployed railway troops to Abkhazia under
dubious pretenses. When this failed to stimulate a reaction from the Georgians,
the Russians sought to destabilize South Ossetia instead.
8th, the world watched the sad climax of months of provocation. Television
screens were filled with the sickening juxtaposition of Russian tanks rolling
across Georgian soil while the world celebrated peace and harmony during the
opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.
decision to take Russia’s
bait and to engage militarily was a terrible blunder. But before we render too harsh
a judgment, consider the intensifying provocations that the Georgian government
faced, including reports of ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia.
Russia’s use of disproportionate force and
its failure to respond to two Georgian ceasefire offers made it painfully clear
that its goal was not to protect its supposed citizens in South
Ossetia as it claimed, but rather to
remove the democratically elected leader of a sovereign nation. As evidenced by
Russian President Medvedev’s recent comments, that
weeks after the conflict started, our colleague George
Miller and I went to Tbilisi
at the request of Speaker Pelosi to demonstrate solidarity with the Georgian
people and to deliver humanitarian aid.
We met the president and other top officials, and we affirmed that the
sovereignty of Georgia
should be respected, and the integrity of its borders should be restored.
I am pleased to see in the audience today the ambassador of Georgia to the United States, as well as David Bakradze, the chairman of the Georgian Parliament and
several of his colleagues. We very much
appreciate your diplomatic efforts on behalf of your country.
While it’s important to acknowledge
the agreement reached yesterday between French President Sarkozy
and President Medvedev regarding the withdrawal of
Russian troops from undisputed Georgian territory, the refusal of President Medvedev to reconsider his decision recognizing the
independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia
is quite troubling. This action violates legal principles of territorial
While historians and military
analysts will long debate who fired the first shot in
the August skirmish, there are two key questions before the committee
today. First, how can we rebuild Georgia most
quickly and effectively? Second, how
should we reassess US-Russian relations in the aftermath of Russia’s use of
disproportionate force against its sovereign neighbor?
Last week President Bush presented
his assistance package for Georgia.
While a robust response to the economic and humanitarian crisis is welcome, and
while there is strong bipartisan support for delivering urgently needed aid to
an ally, there should be a serious discussion about the activities to be funded
and the budget authorities to be used.
I note that the Administration’s
package contains nothing to strengthen the accountability, inclusiveness and
transparency of Georgia’s
political institutions. Such omissions
have previously been identified as a weakness of U.S.
policy toward Georgia. Now would be an appropriate time to rectify
There has also been resounding
silence from the White House thus far on the issue of military assistance.
While I understand that the Department of Defense currently has an assessment
team in Georgia,
it would be helpful to know whether the Administration is planning to provide
such aid. If so, will it be basic replenishment of armaments damaged in the
recent conflict? Will it allow Georgia the ability to participate in foreign
missions such as Iraq?
Or will it provide the capacity for self-defense in case of future
attacks? Given the asymmetrical nature
of the Russian and Georgian forces, just what kinds of arms could possibly give
ability to defend itself from future incursions?
If Georgia is to remain a viable
candidate for NATO membership, it will require significant assistance in
rebuilding its military. To me, it seems that our approach to the Bucharest
Summit in April produced the worst possible outcome. The Administration pushed for Georgia to
receive a Membership Action Plan, knowing full well that this step would be
blocked by the Germans and the French. As a consolation prize, the final
communiqué expressed NATO’s intent to admit Georgia
to the Alliance
eventually. Did this decision signal to
the Russians that Georgia has
no current security guarantees, but would eventually be covered by Article 5
protection, and that therefore this was the time for Russia to set the trap to “justify”
an immediate attack?
Here’s the depressing truth: By all rights we should be doing everything
possible to reassure our friends in Ukraine,
Poland, the Baltic States, and elsewhere in the region that they will
not fall victim to similar acts of Russian aggression. But at this particular moment in history, the
ability to provide that protection is under serious question.
If the Administration doesn’t have a
military strategy in place, then I hope they at least have a diplomatic
one! It seems odd that no senior
American official has bothered to visit Russia before, during or after the
conflict. We have been reassured by the
White House that – in the Administration’s own words – “the Russians know our
position.” Well, clearly they either
didn’t know or didn’t care.
Since then, the Administration has
issued strong condemnations but the actions have failed to live up to its
rhetoric. Administration policy toward Russia seems to
be: Speak loudly, carry a small stick.
The question we must urgently
address is what our future relationship with Russia is going to look like. If the primary goal of Russian foreign policy
is to thwart the American diplomatic agenda, then how can we expect Moscow to be a reliable
partner in dealing with the many international challenges we face?
On the other hand, if Russian
behavior is largely a response to our failure to prioritize this bilateral
relationship and to seek cooperation on the key challenges – and here I speak
most particularly of Iran’s
nuclear weapons program – then don’t we need to review and recalibrate how
we’ve been handling this relationship?
It’s now my pleasure to turn to the
distinguished ranking member, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, for any opening comments she
may wish to make.