Sen. Voinovich criticizes Obama for public diplomacy disaster

Senator George V. Voinovich, R-OHOpinia.USOpinia.US SAN FRANCISCO — In a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) said he was disappointed in the manner in which President Obama’s decision to revise a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe was communicated to NATO allies, Poland and Czech Republic. Calling the handling of the missile decision a “major public relations and public diplomacy blunder,” Senator Voinovich said that announcing it on September 17, 2009, the day of the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland, made it even worse.

Sen. Voinovich said that the decision leaves the impression that the United States is dealing unilaterally with Russia without regard to its NATO allies. “The way this decision was communicated shabbily to Poland and the Czech Republic should also send a shiver down the spines of our brothers and sisters in Eastern Europe and their Baltic neighbors who are concerned with Russia’s aggressive efforts to reassert its influence in what was once the Soviet Union,” Sen. Voinovich said on the Senate floor.

End of Opinia.US report. Opinia.US reports may be republished with attribution.

Press release from Sen. Voinovich’s Senate office.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Contact: Garrette Silverman or Stephanie Sonksen

September 24, 2009 (202) 224-8609

SEN. VOINOVICH FLOOR SPEECH ON

OBAMA’S REPEAL OF EASTERN EUROPEAN

MISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEM

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH) today spoke on the Senate floor on President Obama’s decision to abandon our missile-defense plan and how it will affect America’s image in Eastern Europe.

To view the speech, please visit Sen. Voinovich’s YouTube page at http://www.youtube.com/senvoinovich#play/user/869E6EAA8B06ACFA/15/PlmpDNS1MpU. Please find the full text below.

Floor Statement

U.S. Senator George Voinovich

“America’s Image in Eastern Europe”

September 24, 2009

Madam President, I rise today to discuss America’s relationship with our Eastern European friends as well as the challenges America faces with our relationship with Russia.

Over the last decade in the United States Senate, I have been a champion of NATO and worked diligently to increase membership in the alliance. I have also been active in improving our image in Eastern Europe through expansion of the Visa Waiver Program at the request of our friends and allies in Eastern Europe. My passion for foreign relations stems in large part from my history as a supporter of Ohio’s diverse ethnic communities. As Mayor of Cleveland and Governor of Ohio, I gained a keen understanding of Europe from my close work with constituents with ties to countries that were once subject to life behind the Iron Curtain.

We saw the Berlin Wall fall and the Iron Curtain torn thanks in part to the efforts of Pope John Paul II, President Reagan, and President George H.W. Bush. But even with the end of the Cold War, I was deeply concerned that darker forces in Russia could once again reemerge as a threat to democracy, human rights, and religious freedom not just for the Russian people – but for the newly freed “Captive Nations” of Eastern Europe.

I understood that getting these nations into NATO would make the alliance more vibrant and healthy and give them safe harbor from the possible threat of Russian expansionism. One of my proudest moments in the Senate was being present in March 2002 at the NATO Prague summit where seven countries — Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia — were invited to join NATO. When I was Governor of Ohio and Chair of the National Governor’s Association, I led an effort in 1998 to secure passage of an all-50 state resolution in support of NATO expansion for the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. These new members have brought great vigor to the NATO Alliance and are now some of our strongest allies working alongside our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As such, I was astounded last week to see the Obama Administration appear to turn its back on some of our staunchest NATO allies. Last week’s missile defense announcement was made with little advance notice or consultation and disregarded the great political capital expended by the leaders of Poland and the Czech Republic.

This decision leaves the impression that the United States is dealing unilaterally with Russia without regard to our NATO allies. Regardless of the merits of the decision itself, the manner it was revealed to Warsaw and Prague was a major public relations and public diplomacy blunder. The fact that the decision was announced on September 17, 2009—the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland—makes it even worse.

The way this decision was communicated shabbily to Poland and the Czech Republic should also send a shiver down the spines of our brothers and sisters in Eastern Europe and their Baltic neighbors who are concerned with Russia’s aggressive efforts to reassert its influence in what was once the Soviet Union.

In an opinion piece in last Friday’s Washington Post, David J. Kramer of the German Marshall Fund notes that “Whatever the official explanation now for not moving forward, many—including the Kremlin—will read this shift as an effort to placate Moscow… Announcing the decision ahead of [President] Obama’s meetings with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [this] week [in Pittsburgh] reinforces such thinking.”

Madam President, I had the opportunity this past July to travel to the Baltic States with my friends Senators Durbin, Cardin, and Wicker as part of the U.S. Delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly in Vilnius, Lithuania. As part of that trip, I also visited Riga, Latvia—a stop that marked the highest-ranking U.S. official visit to Latvia in over three years. In all of our bilateral meetings with presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers from former Soviet countries, we were told that it was comforting for them to know that their membership in NATO serves as a hedge against a potentially expansionist Russia.

We should be worried about the uncertainties surrounding a Russia that is reverting back to a KGB-ruled country seeking to weaponize its oil and natural gas resources as a means to expand its influence on Europe and the West. Russia has the world’s largest reserves of natural gas and has the eighth-largest oil reserves. Moscow turned off the tap to Ukraine this past winter. They could do it again. We should also be concerned about Moscow using its control of oil and natural gas to pit members of NATO against each other.

Madam President, there is much talk about resetting the U.S. bilateral relationship with Russia. Moscow seeks to regain its global stature and be respected as a peer in the international community. There is nothing inherently wrong with this.

I believe there are key areas where the United States and Russia share common cause and concern: Russia is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and will be essential to effective multilateral pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear program; Russia continues to have leverage on the North Korean regime and has stated that a nuclear-free Korean peninsula is in the interest of both our countries; we are partners on the International Space Station; and, until the Georgia situation flared in August of last year, our government and U.S. industry were working hard on a nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia.

With the world economy as it is today, the worst thing we could do is break off communication and revert back to our Cold War positions. This week’s G-20 conference in Pittsburgh is an opportunity to further engage Russia and determine where we have a symbiotic relationship and what we can accomplish together for the good of the international community. Nevertheless, such a reset should not come at the expense of our Eastern European friends.

Madam President, time will tell whether last week’s decision will have any influence on Russian cooperation on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) or our efforts to prevent a nuclear-armed Iranian regime.

In the meantime, we have our work cut out as we seek to rebuild confidence and trust with our friends in Eastern Europe. After last week’s events, I suspect that their confidence in the reliability of the United States as a partner and ally has been shaken.

Madam President, I yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum.

– END –

Ms. Garrette M.K. Silverman
Communications Director
Senator George V. Voinovich
Phone: (202)224-7784
Fax: (202) 228-0501
Garrette_Silverman@voinovich.senate.gov
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