As Ukrainians go to the polls, the US supports the nation against malevolent influence from Russia
On April 21, the people of Ukraine will go to the polls to choose their next president.
No matter the outcome, the United States stands ready to support the Ukrainian people against foreign actors seeking to undermine Ukraine’s democratic trajectory, sovereignty and security. We refer, of course, to Russian President Vladimir Putin, his agents, and their destabilizing efforts worldwide.
Last month, the Ukrainian people conducted their first round of elections. While no candidate received the majority needed to declare outright presidential victory, experts have lauded the election as free and fair. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) called the election “competitive” and applauded voters’ record turnout and “broad choice” of candidates.
The success of this first election is a testament to the commitment of the Ukrainian people to liberty and the democratic process, and we commend efforts taken to ensure the integrity of this election. Successfully carrying out a free and fair national election while simultaneously defending territorial sovereignty against Russian aggression is no small victory and should be heralded. To ensure the upcoming run-off can have the same declaration from the OSCE, the Ukrainian people must protect against Russian efforts to meddle in their democratic process through cyber-hacking, disinformation campaigns, and other insidious means.
In the weeks and months following Ukraine’s upcoming runoff election on April 21, the winner will carry the aspirations, dreams, and trust of the Ukrainian people on their shoulders. While only the new president along with the Ukrainian government can protect and strengthen Ukraine’s democratic institutions, the U.S. Congress is prepared to help meet that end.
First and foremost, we must work together to deter Russian aggression. Improving Ukraine’s defensive capabilities through the NATO Yavoriv Training Center, fostering existing military-to-military relationships, and reforming Ukraine’s corrupt defense sector must be a top priority.
Ukraine should also leverage its relationships with the United States and our European Union allies to hold Russia accountable for its dangerous behavior to undermine democracy through election meddling and conventional warfare. Russia’s unprovoked and illegal attack in the Kerch Strait, which saw 24 Ukrainian sailors captured by the Russian military, being a clear example. The United States and its democratic allies should not shy away from increased sanctions against Russian banks, including the Gazprom Bank, VnesheconomBank, or Promsvyazbank, until Russia ceases its aggression.
Additionally, we must close the loopholes that let Russian oligarchs evade sanctions. Oligarchs routinely move their assets between family members and close friends to avoid sanctions. Applying sanctions on the family members of Kremlin officials and oligarchs already under U.S. sanctions is a commonsense measure that could curtail such illicit activity and help to drive the Russians out of Ukraine.
While we can do much to aid in combatting Russian aggression, we must not forget the “enemy from within,” namely Ukraine’s endemic corruption. We fully support efforts to reinstate the anti-corruption courts curtailed earlier this year, and look forward to supporting the Ukrainian government in its efforts to hold offenders accountable. Ukraine must send a message that corruption with impunity will no longer be tolerated. The reforms in the gas sector and on corporate governance of Naftohaz must be maintained; and prosecution for corruption must be based on the evidence and not politically motivated.
The United States continues to stand in solidarity with Ukraine’s civil society in its struggle against corrupt oligarchs plundering public funds and undermining the public trust, which only feeds the misinformation spread by nefarious actors including the Kremlin. Indeed, members of Ukrainian civil society have been threatened, attacked, and some have made the ultimate sacrifice in giving their lives for their nation and the cause of democracy. Anti-corruption activist Kateryna Handziuk is one such individual. Kateryna was killed in an acid attack in Kyiv last November. No justice has been served in her death as her attacker remains at large.
There is no doubt the winner of the upcoming presidential election will face a host of formidable challenges. First and foremost, will be mustering the political capital to deliver on reforms to strengthen Ukraine’s economy and governance in order to bring prosperity to the Ukrainian people and implementing a realistic plan on domestic and foreign policies to continue Ukraine’s forward progress.
After enduring centuries of Russian oppression and the Holodomor genocide, the Ukrainian spirit lives on. Ukraine’s people have heroically proclaimed their love of liberty and their right to choose their nation’s future. Five years after the Revolution of Dignity, election day in Ukraine will serve as another truly historic turning point. We hope for a day, soon, when we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Ukrainian people as they roll up their sleeves once again and get to work building a future that results in a democratic, secure and prosperous Ukraine.
Kaptur, Quigley, Harris and Fitzpatrick are Congressional Ukrainian Caucus co-chairs.