Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hears Testimony on ‘Russian Aggression’

On January 26, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing titled “Countering Russian Aggression: Ukraine and Beyond.”

The two-hour hearing included testimony from Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Erin McKee, USAID Deputy Director for Europe and Eurasia, and Celeste Wallander, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security.

At the hearing, the three officials answered questions from members of the committee on a wide range of topics related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its 12th month.

Some of the more prominent topics include Washington’s recent decision to supply Kyiv with American-made Abrams tanks, US sanctions against Russia’s Wagner Group, and the dismissal of a senior Ukrainian official this week amid corruption allegations. It was

tank turnaround

Jim Richet (R-Idaho), a prominent member of the committee, asked why the Biden administration suddenly changed its position on the supply of Abrams tanks to Ukraine.

“We’ve been asking for this for a while,” Rische said. “But we have been told repeatedly … that sending tanks to Ukraine is either impossible or undesirable or would somehow escalate.”

Speaking to Nuland, he asked: “What happened?”

Nuland replied that Abrams’ tank was “very sophisticated” and required “considerable training”.

“So even if we approved it yesterday, it will take some time before it hits the battlefield,” she asserted. “This is not something that will show up in time for the spring offensive.”

“At every step of this, we have been looking at what Ukrainians need and have asked for,” added Nuland.

She continues:

“But now they need more, so we were accommodating,” Nuland said.

Epoch Times photo
Visitors in military camouflage stand at the entrance of the “PMC Wagner Center” during the official opening of the office block on National Unity Day in St. Petersburg, November 4, 2022. (Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images)

Sanctions against the Wagner Group

Commission member Ben Cardin (Democrat, Maryland) asked why the Russian Wagner Group was designated an “international criminal group” instead of a “foreign terrorist organization.”

Earlier the same day, the U.S. Treasury Department formally designated the group as a “serious international criminal organization.”

Cardin also asked what other steps could be taken against the Wagner Group, which has played a key role in Russia’s recent battlefields in the East Donetsk region.

Nuland said the label “transnational criminal organization” “fits Wagner’s way of working, especially in Africa.”

She accused the group of “seeking its own material interests and power” by “preying on state wealth, especially in Africa”.

“Therefore, in addition to the main authorization, [Wagner-associated] Entities, we are currently working on sanctions against some of the entities that support Wagner,” Nuland said. “trading partner”

“We are also looking at money and other main sources of income for the Wagner team,” she continued. “They have access to gold mines in Mali and the Central African Republic … which directly finance the fighting they are conducting in Ukraine.”

“So we are working on some of these measures,” added Nuland.

Epoch Times photo
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks via video link at a conference in Kyiv, Ukraine on January 20, 2023. (President of Ukraine press handout via his service/Reuters)

Anti-Graft Drive in Kyiv

Senator Jeff Markley (D-Ore.) also referred to Nuland and asked about the recent dismissal of several high-ranking Ukrainian officials, including the deputy defense minister, amid allegations of corruption.

“I would like to look at the stories that have been raised about corruption concerns,” Markley said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has “fired several people,” he noted. “I have a story about [Ukrainian] The military pays much more than the market price, which always means corruption. “

Markley stressed the importance of helping Kyiv fight government corruption, which he said could erode international support for Ukraine’s war effort.

Nuland replied, “What the Ukrainian patriots are fighting for, and what we are supporting in the international community, is a more democratic, cleaner, more European Ukraine.”

“I think Zelensky is very conscious of that. We are very clear that we need to have good corporate governance and anti-corruption measures, including judicial action,” she said. rice field.

Nuland said Zelensky’s mass dismissal this week “sends a very strong signal to others seeking to prey on this war effort. It is important for Ukraine’s future.”

Nuland has a longstanding relationship with Ukraine’s domestic politics.

In 2014, she played a key role in the country’s US-backed “Maidan revolution.” The revolution ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, known for his proximity to Moscow, from power.