ICYMI: Ahead of the Biden-Putin summit, Shaheen says the political unrest in Belarus is a “wake-up call” for the West, in USA Today Op-Ed

June 15, 2021

(Washington, DC) – US Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee (SFRC) and Chairman of the SFRC Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, posted a comment USA today why the West needs to come together to address the political situation in Belarus while Putin intensifies efforts to sow chaos and undermine democracies in the region. The comment comes a day before President Biden’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

In the comment, Shaheen reflects the non-partisan congress delegation it recently went to Eastern Europe, including her meeting with the Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya to discuss the blatant human rights violations committed by the Lukashenka regime. In addition, Shaheen Stresses the need for a strong transatlantic alliance to combat the increasing willingness to fight dictators like Lukashenka and Russia’s increasing aggression in the region. From stopping the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to creating a path to NATO membership for key regional allies such as Georgia and Ukraine, Shaheen details a plan to ensure Putin’s plans against a cohesive West are unsuccessful.

In Belarus, Shaheen writes: “While the recent actions in Belarus are worrying in and of themselves, the general pattern of Putin’s behavior must be confronted before Belarus is swallowed into orbit … This must be a wake-up call for the West.”

And to strengthen the transatlantic alliance, she concludes: “…We need to make sure that the transatlantic community remains united. We cannot allow Putin’s attempts to divide us to succeed. President Joe Biden’s trip to Europe preceded by Secretary of State Antony Blinking previous trips have rekindled the energy of our bilateral relationship. And Putin’s plans cannot be successful against a cohesive West. “

read this op-ed Here or at the bottom:

A wake-up call for the West: When Joe Biden meets Vladimir Putin, don’t ignore Belarus

From US Senator Jeanne Shaheen

June 15, 2021

On May 23, the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko ordered one of his fighter jets to force a civilian airliner to deviate from its flight path and land in Minsk so that it could arrest a journalist he disliked – and endanger the lives of 132 other people Game put the plane. We also have reason to believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have given the OK required for this dangerous and reckless act.

There followed a swift response from the international community, including my visit to the Lithuanian capital earlier this month on behalf of the United States, accompanied by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn. To catch up with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskayawho leads the democratic opposition to the Lukashenko dictatorship in exile.

Your story is inspiring and tragic. The trained teacher came into the spotlight when her husband was arrested for having the audacity to challenge Lukashenko for the presidency.

Tsikhanouskaya then she ran for president in 2020. The US government said it was concerned that the election was neither free nor fair. But Lukashenko and his cronies went tough and declared victory. You then pose Tsikhanouskaya and their children under immense pressure that forced them across the border into Lithuania.

Putin’s growing influence

Despite genuine democratic opposition, Lukashenko survived – mainly thanks to the material support of his kleptocrat colleague Vladimir Putin. Why should a dictator as crafty as Putin support a strong old-school man like Lukashenko? Restoring control of the Kremlin over Minsk is part of Putin’s plans to set up outposts on the Russian periphery to sow chaos and undermine democracies in the region.

That must be a wake-up call for the West.

Putin’s ambition to unite Belarus and Russia into a single state and expand its authoritarian reach cannot be ignored. Aside from rejecting the Belarusian people’s democratic aspirations, Putin would also have yet another regional tool at his disposal to heighten his intimidation of Kiev in Ukraine.

When I visited Ukraine this month, government officials voiced concerns about Russian incursions and gray area war tactics that would only get worse if Putin could intimidate and, in the worst case, attack from the Belarusian border. Russia already leases two military bases in Belarus and has a third in mind, continues to support pro-Russian separatists and occupies large parts of Ukraine with Russian soldiers.

Russian activities in the Black Sea are particularly worrying and could point to further Russian action against Ukraine this fall, when Europe is on vacation and Germany is distracted from its own elections.

We focus on Belarus, and Ukraine continues to enjoy broad bipartisan support in Washington. But it’s worth noting that Russia’s first play on undermining democracy in Eastern Europe began with the Republic of Georgia, which I also visited. I saw the “administrative borderline” that marked part of the 20% of Georgia that was occupied by Russia and its local proxies. Here, Russian forces are trying to intimidate Georgians by occasionally moving the fence that marks the line and obstructing the movement of Georgian citizens across the line, thereby preventing access to essential services.

The Russians are also obstructing the activities of the European Union’s observation mission and participating in disinformation campaigns to disrupt Georgia’s democracy in a way that Americans know all too well from our elections.

Reins in Russia

Russia’s malicious behavior extends beyond Eastern Europe. Putin’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline is to connect Russia directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea. This project would allow Russia to stop gas transit through Ukraine, depriving Kiev of important revenue. The Ukrainians, along with the Poles and the Baltic states, protested loudly to their European compatriots in an attempt to stop the pipeline, but construction continues.

While recent actions in Belarus are worrying in themselves, the broader pattern of Putin’s behavior must be countered before Belarus is swallowed into orbit.

Firstly, we must seriously think about membership of NATO for Ukraine and Georgia, or at least show a clear path for accession. Both want to join in, which would be devastating for Putin’s plans. Since its inception, NATO has been open to, and unanimously approved, countries making the sovereign choice to join, and it shouldn’t be any different now. Reforms are needed to ensure the Alliance wins strong allies, but if they don’t act, Putin would bring victory.

Second, we have to stop Nord Stream 2. This is a purely geopolitical project and it will only serve Putin’s interests. The Biden government must work with our Western European partners to protect our equally important Eastern European allies. With the sanction instruments provided by the Congress, both the completion and the operationalization of the project can be averted.

Third, we need to increase our military and diplomatic presence in the region. We need a qualified ambassador in Kiev as soon as possible. Promoting business and investment relations with Ukraine and Georgia would also benefit our two countries.

Finally, we need to make sure that the transatlantic community remains united. We cannot allow Putin’s attempts to divide us to succeed. President Joe Biden’s trip to Europe preceded by Secretary of State Antony Blinking previous trips have rekindled the energy of our bilateral relationship. And Putin’s plans cannot be successful against a cohesive West.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is a Democrat representing New Hampshire in the US Senate and is co-chair of the NATO Senate Observer Group. She is also the only woman and a senior member of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Follow her on Twitter: @SenatorShaheen

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