Putin, his enablers and Russia must be punished – now

U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-9) published an op-ed in the USA Today Network and New Jersey’s Bergen Record this weekend discussing the struggles of the Ukrainian people, stressing the need to help Ukraine and demanding heavy punishment for Vladimir Putin and the Russian economy. Representing one of the largest Ukrainian American communities in all of the United States, standing with Ukraine holds tremendous significance in New Jersey’s Ninth District.

The text of Representative Pascrell’s essay is below.

Last Sunday I attended services at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Passaic, New Jersey.

The love and respect our neighbors have for their ancestral homeland is strong as Ukraine is threatened by Russia.

Already the most diverse kaleidoscope in America, our Ninth District is blessed with one of the largest Ukrainian American communities in our country. It was essential at this time that our neighbors know that the United States Congress is standing squarely in their corner.

Ukrainian citizens are now also demanding American support.

The Ukrainian people know the struggle. Few people in history have suffered as much tragedy and suffering at the hands of tyrants as Ukraine.

In 1932 and 1933, more than three million Ukrainians died of starvation at the hands of Josef Stalin’s dictatorship in the Holodomor.

After Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa in 1941, millions of Ukrainians were massacred and thousands of Ukrainian towns were razed to the ground by the armies of Adolf Hitler.

Even after 1945, the sufferings of Ukraine did not cease. Ukrainians were subjected to further ethnic cleansing from Stalin as the Iron Curtain fell over Eastern Europe.

Ukrainians have transcended the brutal hardships that have shaped their identity. Ukraine’s independence in 1991 and its Orange Revolution of 2004 represent two of the greatest moments of human freedom in modern history: the birth of democracy in a field salted by totalitarianism.

Yet Vladimir Putin has never accepted Ukraine’s self-determination. On Ukrainian soil, Putin has spent years sowing violence and chaos.

Putin poisoned former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. He installed a puppet dictator who imprisoned political opponents and plundered millions. Putin robbed Crimea in an illegal military action in 2014.

Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine may come as a surprise to many, but it’s no surprise if we rely solely on Putin’s rhetoric. Over the years, Putin has repeatedly lamented the demise of the Soviet Union and questioned Ukraine’s very right to exist as an independent state and not as a vassal territory of Mother Russia.

Too often, illusions about the days before World War II are overused by politicians, but right now there are undeniable parallels.

In the 1930s, the world made repeated concessions that we hoped would satiate a wolf. These concessions only whet the appetite of the enemy.

We also pursued half measures against Putin.

Putin’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 and his annexation of their territories did not elicit a strong response to deter his malevolence.

At some point, the wolf will turn around to devour you. At some point, you must accept pain and sacrifice for the greater good of the global community. We cannot back down from this moment.

To do this, it is not enough to hold Putin accountable; Putin, his enablers and Russia must be punished. Russia must be treated like the rogue state that it is.

America must arm Ukraine as much as possible. We need to disrupt Russian intelligence and share ours. We need to revoke Russia’s normal trading status and kick it out of the World Trade Organization. We must accept refugees seeking shelter from the horrors of war.

All Americans should understand: Ukraine is a proud nation of 44 million people – bigger than California; its capital, Kiev, is about the size of Chicago.

We must impose crushing economic pain on Putin and the ring of billionaire criminals and military advisers who support him.

Seize their property. Impound their yachts. Auction of their Lear Jets. Bring down their purse. Expel the children of the oligarchs from our universities. Make them feel pain for the horrors they cause.

Of course, the United States cannot do any of this alone. We must have willing partners.

So far, President Joe Biden has urged our European and global partners to join us in a common goal.

Winning over our allies, especially Germany, is no small feat. And the president’s warnings about Putin’s plans were dismissed by many, but they turned out to be tragically correct. Biden deserves huge credit for his patient and steely leadership.

The multilateral sanctions that we have so far decreed against the Russian government and public entities have had a catastrophic impact on the country’s economy. The ruble is collapsing, the Moscow stock market is in freefall, Russian banks are cut.

I have no doubt that if Biden’s predecessor was still in office, none of this would have been possible.

Putin invaded Ukraine thinking he would further fracture relations between the US and EU countries. Putin thought that none of us would have the strength to fight back.

The exact opposite has happened: the United States has not been this close to our allies in years and NATO has not found this level of resolve in decades.

It’s a beginning. We cannot weaken our resolve. Ukraine is existentially threatened.

Now is the time when friendships are tested. We must be there alongside Ukraine.

The Ukrainian people must know that they will not be forgotten in their darkest hours.

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