Gardner, Colleagues Question President Obama’s Silence in the Face of Russia Aggression

Washington, DC – Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), David Perdue (R-GA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Marco Rubio (R-FL), members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today sent a letter to President Obama regarding recent reports of harassment and violence toward U.S. diplomats, as well as the Administration’s proposal to enter into an agreement with Russia in Syria.

Recently, Gardner joined his colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee in introducing a bipartisan resolution that calls on Russia to cease provocative military maneuvers that endanger U.S. forces and calls on the U.S., its European allies, and the international community to continue to apply pressure on Moscow.

Earlier this year, Gardner visited Europe to discuss NATO’s ability to counter Russian aggression. He met with European leaders, U.S. diplomats, and military personnel, who all agreed on the need for strong U.S. leadership and enhanced presence in the face of Russia’s increasingly belligerent actions.

The letter reads in full:

Dear Mr. President: 

We are gravely concerned with recent reports of violence and harassment directed toward U.S. diplomats by the Russian authorities and call on you to take immediate action, including recalling the U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation and imposing additional U.S. sanctions on the Russian Federation. 

Moreover, we are deeply concerned with reports that despite these incidents and Russia’s mistreatment of U.S. diplomats, your Administration plans to sign an agreement to cooperate with the Russians in Syria.  According to the Washington Post report on June 30, “[u]nder the proposal, which was personally approved by President Obama and heavily supported by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, the American and Russian militaries would cooperate at an unprecedented level, something the Russians have sought for a long time.”  The article alleges that U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter opposed this agreement, but “was compelled to go along” and if that is the case, we are outraged that our military’s views have apparently been disregarded.

As detailed by the Washington Post on June 27 and June 29, 2016, Russian authorities repeatedly harassed U.S. diplomats and allegedly assaulted a American diplomat in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. When asked about the allegations, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova not only tacitly confirmed this behavior, but also indicated that the harassment will continue “the more U.S. damages relations” with Russia.

This behavior is unacceptable, contrary to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and is an affront to our nation by a Russian government determined to undermine bilateral ties. The assault of one of our diplomats in front of our own Embassy should result in serious consequences for the perpetrators of these crimes. 

Therefore, we call on you to immediately recall U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation John Tefft to Washington, until such time as the Russian Federation offers an official apology for these incidents and impose additional U.S. sanctions on those individuals that authorized and perpetrated these crimes, including financial sanctions and lifetime visa bans to the United States.  We also urge you to declare persona non grata relevant staff from Embassy of the Russian Federation in the United States.  

Mr. President, we believe that these incidents are part of a disturbing and proven pattern of aggressive behavior of Russia under President Vladimir Putin that seeks to confront the United States worldwide and undermine our national security. While diplomacy must always be the first step, we must confront this growing threat with requisite force and resolve and not bend to Russia’s demands over the objection of our military leaders.  

We look forward to your immediate action.