U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss discusses Crimea and Russia
U.S Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., discusses the Russian aggression in Crimea during a meeting March 17, 2014, with The Albany Herald Editorial Board. Chambliss, of Moultrie, is vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
ALBANY — Russian Vladimir Putin signed a treaty Tuesday making Crimea a part of Russia again, saying that he had no intentions of seizing other regions of Ukraine. In a meeting Monday with The Albany Herald Editorial Board, U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, said any incursion into the eastern portion of Ukraine beyond the Crimean region would be a “violation of the NATO pact,” which would up the stakes in responding to Putin’s aggressive military action.
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“Crimea is a little bit different situation than an all-out invasion of a country,” Chambliss said, noting that Russia has a strong presence in the former autonomous Ukrainian state that is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol. He said some underestimated the importance of the base to Russia. “They (Russians) were going to do everything they had to do to protect that,” he said.
The Crimean invasion by Russian military was revealing for those who had a false impression of Putin, said Chambliss, who is vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“Anybody that thinks Putin’s a nice guy who’s going to be our friend is living in a dream world,” Chambliss said. “That’s why I and others have cautioned this administration against doing business with the Russians. … This guy is KGB. He’s from the old school. … Now we’re seeing what kind of individual he is.”
Reaction Tuesday from the Ukrainian government that replaced the Russian-friendly one that was overthrown and Western leaders was what was expected as the worst crisis between the United States and Russia since the Cold War era continued. The Tuesday treaty bringing Crimea into the Russian Federation followed a weekend referendum in Crimea that was denounced by the United States and other opposed to Russia’s actions as illegitimate. U.S. officials have said they will refuse to recognize Crimea as a Russian territory.
Reuters News Service reported that the White House said Tuesday that sanctions it announced Monday against those supporting the Russian action, travel and asset freezing for about a dozen people accused of supporting the Russian invasion, would be expanded. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday the annexation of the peninsula was an “unacceptable blow to the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Reuters reported.
Chambliss said the sanctions imposed by the United States are ineffective. “We’re talking about sanctions against him that are meaningless,” the senator said, adding that in some ways Obama’s hands are tied in the situation on how to address Russian military aggression.
The senator said a combination of events over the past few years led to the Crimean events. He said the administration was warned that pulling out of Iraq would result in chaos and “bad guys” gaining traction there, which Chambliss said is “exactly what we’re seeing. The same thing will happen in Afghanistan if we just arbitrarily pull everybody out.”
Still, Chambliss said, Putin was “nowhere” on the world stage until “Obama kind of backed down from him in Syria.”
After drawing a line on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the United States failed to act immediately when the Assad regime used gas on thousands of Syrians citizens. Obama’s predecessors acted in some way immediately when facing a military conflict or the potential for action, he said.
“If you fail to act,” Chambliss said, “then you send a signal of weakness to the world. And that’s exactly what this president has done over the last five years from a national security perspective. Now, nobody wants to engage in a conflict, and we shouldn’t unless we absolutely have to, but you have to do certain things to send a message to a leader in Syria that you can’t go out and kill tens of thousands of people arbitrarily, particularly with gas. And when you set a red line in the sand, you’ve got to do something when you cross that red line.
“I think all of that combined has really allowed Putin to emerge as a leader that he really isn’t.”
The Russian asset that makes it an economic player is energy, with high oil prices benefiting Putin’s government. With the vast amount of natural gas that the United States has, Chambliss said, it should work toward establishing a supply infrastructure that would displace some of Russia’s export market while also benefiting U.S. trade. That can’t be done overnight, he noted, but it should be pursued.
“We ought to have an initiative out of the White House to do that,” he said.
Chambliss touched on a number of topics during his meeting with the Editorial Board, including coming changes to the U.S. military. He said the military was going through some “difficult times” as the United States determines its long-term priorities. “I’m not one who thinks you can solve our long-term problems by reducing the size of the force structure,” he said. “We know that at some point in time, there’s going to be another military conflict.”
Officials can’t know when and where that will be, but “we do know every conflict we’ve been in we’ve had to engage ground troops,” Chambliss said. “And we can’t afford to downsize the Army’s and the Marine Corps’ force structure to the point where we’re bare-bones.”
He said the military is changing, however, using unmanned aircraft “and 20 years from now, who knows?”
With Georgia’s concentration of military bases, the state will be impacted by the force reductions. “We’ve got a couple of bases that are going to feel it more than others,” he said.
Chambliss, who visited Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany on Monday, said the Albany base “is in good shape” because of its logistics mission and because of its quality work. “That’s the key,” he said.
“Overall,” Chambliss said, “I think we’re going to be less affected than some other states.”
On the recently passed U.S. farm bill, the senator, who is ranking member and former chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry, said he was pleased with the package.
Chambliss, who is leaving the Senate at the end of the year, said he “always said, in traveling around the country … that when I do leave Congress, I want to make sure that we have an agriculture policy in place that hopefully will entice young folks to either come to the farm or stay on the farm.”
Chambliss said he has a grandson who is looking at a farming career.
“And now we have an agricultural policy in place as I leave Washington that will provide the right kind of safety net,” he said, adding it was no guarantee of profit, but a safety net that would be beneficial over the long term.”
Regarding the Savannah Port Expansion Project that has been held up by the administration, Chambliss said a conference report is expected in 30-40 days on a stalled Water Resources Development Act that the White House is using as an excuse to not permit the dredging of the port. The House and Senate have each passed versions of the legislation, which has be held up in the reconciliation phase.
State officials and Georgia’s congressional delegation have argued that Congress authorized the spending on the Savannah port in its budget package, but the Obama administration argues it must first have the additional $193 million for the project in the water-projects legislation and approved before it will OK work to deepen the harbor to accommodate super-sized cargo ships.
In saying the state would spend money it had allocated to the project to keep it moving, “Gov. (Nathan) Deal showed great leadership,” Chambliss said. “I applaud that.”
He said the Governor’s Office is expected to outline expenditures that will put the project in a position to move forward as quickly as possible next year with federal funds expected to be allocated in the federal Fiscal year 2016 budget.