Guest column submitted by U.S. Senators Jon Kyl, Ron Johnson, Jeff Sessions and Mike Crapo
Twenty years after the Soviet Union's dissolution and the reassertion of their independence, Ukraine, Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have been well-described as a "belt of freedom and democracy," buffering the rest of Europe from Russia.
Each country shares a strong commitment to maintaining independence. Developing democracy and building a free market system after communist subjugation is hard. Dealing with a large neighbor bent on sabotaging their efforts increases the difficulty.
Russia's actions manifest a lack of confidence in its system. The increasing success of states previously part of the Soviet Union highlights the dichotomy.
Russia's actions are being resisted, and Georgia's and the Baltic States' (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) governments seek U.S. assistance. More than any transactional process of concession-based "reset" between the U.S. and Russia, the success of these countries is most likely to improve Russia's behavior and relationship with the West.
What can we do to help? Although these countries face unique challenges and opportunities, all five seek closer ties with the U.S.
Russia has a significant influence in Ukraine, affecting Ukraine reaching its full progress potential. Opposition party members helped Ukraine through the Orange Revolution, but were unable to meet expectations. Ukraine needs foreign investment, but until it can successfully implement lasting reforms, investors will be cautious about exposure to a business climate with extensive corruption.
Despite Russia's 2008 invasion into South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgian prospects are hopeful. Mikheil Saakasvilli's dynamic leadership is modeled on Ronald Reagan's and Milton Friedman's economic principles. With Russian troops occupying one-fifth of this country and nearly 1,000 troops fighting alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Georgia requested and should be allowed to purchase defensive weapons from the U.S. Georgia, a future NATO member, is an excellent site to support missile defense of the U.S. and Europe. A free trade agreement with the U.S. and E.U. admission would also help ensure Georgia's long-term success.
The Baltic States fared better. However, Russia has frustrated Lithuania's attempt to secure financing and commitments for a nuclear power plant, a potential investment opportunity for U.S. companies.
The Baltic States demonstrated their commitment to NATO and the U.S. by participating in Iraq and Afghanistan without caveats, and Estonia is one of few NATO members prepared to honor its pledge to spend two percent of GDP on defense. All three want NATO to continue "air policing" their territory and we believe they are willing to provide the bases and reimburse the U.S. for our costs. This arrangement could serve as an example for other NATO members as we reconfigure our force structure in Europe.
The Baltic States are strongly opposed to the removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe. If states currently hosting these weapons insist on removal from their territory, some indicated the Baltic States may be willing to host them. Understandably, they are concerned about what U.S.-Russia and NATO-Russia missile defense cooperation could mean for their defense.
During a recent visit to these nations, we heard what President Reagan's legacy means to the people and leaders. One prominent Baltic leader urged the U.S. to locate "Reagan Centers" in each country to cement the 40th President's legacy and provide understanding of the policies that have helped create freedom and prosperity in the U.S.
We agree and believe that American leaders should work together to make such centers a reality.
Perhaps nowhere on Earth can peoples be found who are more committed to freedom than in Georgia, the Baltic States, and the Ukraine.
The U.S. should seize this moment to support them and provide a clear example to the Russian people who could enjoy the same opportunities.
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