Ukraine foreign minister urges continued sanctions on Russia

Secretary of State Tillerson shakes hands with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, March 7, 2017, (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Secretary of State Tillerson stands with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, March 7, 2017, (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — Ukraine's foreign minister told U.S. senators on Tuesday that sanctions against Russia shouldn't be eased and possibly should be ratcheted up as Moscow escalates its military aggression against its western neighbor.

Testifying with representatives from other Eastern European countries affected by Russia's belligerence, Pavlo Klimkin told the Senate Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee that he'd just come from a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who assured him the Trump administration will support Kiev in its standoff with Moscow.

But the signals President Donald Trump has sent since the 2016 presidential campaign have stoked unease in foreign capitals. Trump has made clear he desires improved relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin while at the same time questioning the value of NATO and other longstanding alliances.

Concerned Trump may act on his own, a bipartisan group of senators is pushing legislation that would require the president to get approval from Congress before easing U.S. economic and financial penalties against Moscow.

The Trump White House also is eyeing a dramatic reduction in foreign aid and diplomatic spending. The Associated Press reported last week that Tillerson has agreed in principle to the 37 percent cut, but wants to spread it out over three years rather than in one dramatic cut.

The combined budget this year for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development was $50.1 billion, a little more than 1 percent of the total federal budget. The White House is looking for massive savings across the non-defense portions of the government's budget to offset a proposed $54 billion increase in military spending.

Piotr Wilczek, Poland's ambassador to the United States, said the proposed cuts "sound really dangerous." He said he hoped the reductions can be prevented because Poland and other countries in the region rely heavily on support from the U.S.

"We hope that people who think this way will change their minds because American leadership in this region is essential," Wilczek said.

Russia's incursions into eastern Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea in 2014 have drawn widespread condemnation in Europe and the United States along with a raft of sanctions.

Klimkin told the subcommittee that Russia's policies toward Ukraine can be expressed in one word — "war." More than 9,800 Ukrainians have been killed in the conflict, nearly 28,000 have been wounded and almost 1.8 million have been displaced. He urged Congress to continue providing Ukraine with money for security assistance, including defensive weapons.

Ukraine is "on the front lines," Klimkin said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the foreign operations subcommittee chairman, said he also wants better ties with Russia. But he said that will never happen until Moscow changes its practice "of trying to grind democracy into the ground."

After Trump's victory in November, Graham pledged to use his position in the Republican majority to investigate what he called "Russia's misadventures throughout the world." Graham also leads the Senate Judiciary crime and terrorism subcommittee, which has launched an inquiry into Russia's efforts to influence elections in the United States and other countries.

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Contact Richard Lardner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rplardner

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