Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today delivered the following remarks on Ukraine, Russia and European security at an event sponsored by the Ronald Reagan House and held at Vilnius University in Vilnius, Lithuania:
“We are here to take your questions and have a discussion. But first, I would like to make a few words on geopolitics and security, and then invite each of my colleagues to make some remarks.
“We come to Lithuania after visiting Norway, Estonia and Latvia. We have had good discussions in those countries with government, military, and parliamentary leaders, just as we have today in Lithuania. On our way to Vilnius, we also had a chance to visit NATO's Baltic Air Policing Mission, which is being flown out of northern Lithuania. Tomorrow we will travel to Moldova.
“We are visiting the Baltic countries this week to consult with our allies about how we must respond together to Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, its ongoing military intervention in eastern Ukraine, and its other efforts to pressure its neighbors, including in this region. We see the ongoing crisis in Ukraine as you and our other Baltic allies do: It means the United States, Europe, and NATO cannot continue with business as usual.
“All of us had high hopes for our relationship with Russia after the Cold War. We provided billions of dollars of assistance to help Russia's transition from communism. NATO stated in the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act that it had ‘no need, no intent, and no plans’ to deploy any significant military capability onto the territory of new NATO allies in eastern and central Europe, even as we enlarged the alliance. So today, while NATO's membership has grown significantly over the past 16 years, the presence of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe has barely changed. All of these actions reflected the U.S. and European desire to build a constructive and cooperative relationship with Russia, and a new, inclusive security order to sustain our vision of Europe whole, free, and at peace – a vision that we always believed, and still do believe, would benefit Russia, and that we consistently invited and encouraged Russia to join.
“Unfortunately, it should now be clear to all of us that Russia under President Putin has taken a very dark turn, and our highest hopes for our relationship with Russia have not borne out. This should have been clear, and was clear to many of us, the first time President Putin invaded and dismembered a sovereign country – Georgia in 2008. It should definitely be clear now in light of Mr. Putin's military intervention in Ukraine.
“We need to recognize reality, and make our policies on this basis: President Putin, and his desire to restore a kind of imperial dominance over Russia's so-called near abroad, poses a geopolitical challenge not only to Russia's neighbors but to our entire vision of Europe whole, free, and at peace. This does not mean a return to the Cold War. But it should mean that we need to prepare, despite all of our best efforts and intentions since 1991, for a more competitive relationship with President Putin's Russia.
“This demands more from all of us. It means that all of us in NATO should re-commit ourselves to the alliance's core missions of deterrence and collective defense. The United States is committed to our obligations to the collective defense of our NATO allies. It is one thing to say that. It is quite another to have the allied forces and capabilities present in this part of Europe, on a persistent basis, to deter aggression and demonstrate NATO's resolve and ability to meet our defensive commitments if called upon. That is what is needed now.
“NATO must shift its force posture toward a more even distribution of our presence and capabilities across the alliance, including here in Lithuania and the other Baltic countries. We are taking some modest steps in this direction. And that is good. But this shift cannot be tactical and temporary. It must be strategic, sustainable, and enduring.
“For NATO to do more for its members, its members must do more for themselves and for our alliance. I understand that economic times are still tough. And we in the United States, including those of us in the Congress, have our own work to do to reverse the harmful effects of recent cuts to our defense spending. That said, considering what President Putin is doing right now in Ukraine, it is more important than ever for every NATO ally to spend at least 2 percent of its GDP on defense. I'm pleased that Lithuania has pledged and is planning to do this, and the sooner you follow through on that commitment the better.
“At the same time, we and Lithuania's leaders agree that European countries need to increase their efforts to diversify their supply of energy, as Lithuania is taking the lead in doing. As Senators Hoeven and Barrasso will explain, the United States can be an important part of that solution in Lithuania and Europe.
“Finally, the United States, the EU, and NATO must do more to support Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and other European countries that aspire to be part of our Transatlantic community. We cannot bar the doors to a Europe whole, free, and at peace, leaving an unfortunate few outside to be hunted and harassed.
“That means the West must provide far greater diplomatic, economic, and military support to Ukraine – including a long-term program to assist them in reforming and rebuilding their armed forces. We need to provide similar support to Moldova. We must show all of these countries that, as long as they meet the rightfully high standards for membership, the doors to NATO and the EU remain open, and the fundamental choices about their future foreign policy are for them to make – no one else.
“In the last century, the United States always supported the captive nations here in the Baltic region. I still remember as a boy seeing the flags of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia proudly carried in our Fourth of July parades. And we would ask what they were, and our parents would tell us about the captive nations, and why your struggle was also our struggle.
“All of us must do the same now for Ukraine. We cannot, we must not, give up on Crimea, or any other part of Ukraine or other sovereign country that Mr. Putin seeks to claim by force. This kind of aggressive, neo-imperial behavior is fundamentally at odds with our vision of Europe whole, free, and at peace – and indeed, to core principles of the post-war international order that all of us have sacrificed so mightily to build.
“We did not seek this challenge from Mr. Putin's Russia, nor did we deserve it. But we must rise to it all the same – for the interests and values of our Transatlantic community depend on our resolve.”