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Dilemma over Ukraine goes deeper

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When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Americans and our allies cheered at the crumbling of an enemy to democracy.

Countries like Ukraine were suddenly free from Russia’s cruel grip. Ukraine was on its way to becoming a democracy and the newest member of the European Union.

But Russia was having none of it.

Russia’s President and notorious ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his desire to rebuild the Soviet Union. Ukraine has important seaports, natural gas fields and proximity to other countries he wants to seize for Russia.

So Putin attacked Ukraine, first with bribes and disinformation campaigns that led to mass protests by the Ukrainian people, forcing a president corrupted by Russia to flee to Russia in 2014.

Then Putin, still working through his henchmen to corrupt Ukrainian leaders, that same year attacked Ukraine with armed troops, seizing Crimea.

The U.S. and allied Western democracies were quick to impose severe sanctions against Russia for invading an independent country, and more than 14,000 Ukrainian soldiers have since died defending Ukraine.

As Ukrainian soldiers fought to defend their country, Ukraine citizens used their votes to say “no” to lingering corruption abetted or instigated by Russia.

Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, won office this year on a strong anti-corruption platform. Alas, Ukraine’s new president quickly found himself facing a new challenge.

Russia, suffering from more U.S. sanctions imposed for its social media and cyberwarfare attacks on the U.S. election system in 2016, wants free of those sanctions.

So Russia reportedly began spreading the lie that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the U.S. elections in 2016.

It’s a “fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves,” Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council expert on Russia in Trump’s White House, testified to Congress this fall.

Indeed, all U.S. national security agencies and the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee agree that Russia did it, not Ukraine.

Nevertheless, President Trump was impeached by the House this month in part on the accusation that he was withholding U.S. aid to Ukraine until Ukraine agreed to publicly announce an investigation of the story that Ukraine interfered in U.S. elections in 2016.

After news of the request for a “favor” was publicly reported, Ukraine suddenly received the withheld aid without having to announce any investigations.

Trump denies the accusations against him. Still, Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and others persist in promoting the debunked Ukraine election interference story.

The overriding threat to Ukraine remains a threat to the U.S., too. Russia is not finished attacking Ukraine. Russia is not finished with efforts to undermine the U.S. democracy either.

Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina who heads the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, recently warned against Russia’s plans to again interfere in the 2020 elections.

“Newly released data demonstrates how aggressively Russia sought to divide Americans by race, religion and ideology, and how the IRA (Russia’s Internet Research Agency) actively worked to erode trust in our democratic institutions,” Burr said about Russia’s illegal interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“Most troublingly, it shows that these activities have not stopped,” Burr warned in a public statement released in October.

Russia dare not invade the U.S. as it did Ukraine. But without resistance against Russia’s cyberattacks on the U.S. election process, we risk a weakened democracy.

Several bills have been passed by the Democratic-led House that strengthen protections against foreign interference. Yet, the Republican-led Senate blocked votes on those bills in 2018 and again this month.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress unite each year to help defend Ukraine against Russia. Why won’t Republicans unite with Democrats in Congress to pass tough new laws to defend our own democracy against Russia aggression?

This is our dilemma.