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Wednesday
Feb242016

COALITION OF HERITAGE COMMUNITIES CONDEMNS RUSSIAN AGGRESSION IN SYRIA––CALLS FOR DETERMINED U.S. RESPONSE

Press Release from Joint Baltic American National Committee 2/17/16

(Washington, DC) -  A coalition of heritage communities in the United States today  submitted a letter to  President. Obama and his administration condemning ongoing Russian aggression and calling for a determined  US response to it. The letter was precipitated  by the most recent Russian  bombing of Aleppo, Syria.  Reportedly thousands  were   killed and over 70,000  civilians were displaced  from their homes. The letter noted that this is the most recent  case of Russian aggression,  which was   previously manifested in Ukraine, Turkey, and the Baltic countries.
 
The letter was submitted to President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker.
 
The coalition  encompasses eleven  national organizations including the largest Syrian American, Ukrainian American, Turkish American, and Baltic American organizations in the United States as well as Libyan American, Circassian American, and Crimean Tartar American organizations. (A  complete list of organizations  is provided below.)
 
The coalition  urges the United States  to initiate specific  responses including  the creation of a safe zone in Syria for displaced civilians,  providing needed arms and training  for the Ukrainian armed forces, expelling Russia from the international SWIFT  banking network,  placing permanent NATO  forces in the Baltics, and  supporting NATO-member Turkey  in its response to Moscow’s hostile stance to it.
 
“Putin’s aggression around the world must be stopped. Only yesterday Russia bombed a hospital in Idlib, Syria run by Doctors Without Borders. We must cease looking the other way as Putin threatens international peace and security,”  stated Mirna Barq, President of the Syrian American Council.
 
“Americans of Baltic heritage are  appalled at the  horrific  reports and pictures coming out of Syria, and particularly  from Aleppo of late” said Karl Altau of the Joint Baltic American National Committee. “This is part of Putin's aggressive pattern: first Georgia,  then Crimea and Ukraine, and now Syria. What Putin's regime is currently perpetrating against the Syrian people is an outrage and is condemned by our communities. We cannot ignore this aggression. The West must respond to it directly and  effectively,” he concluded.

 

The full text of the letter is:

February 10th 2016

Senator Robert Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,

Senator Benjamin Cardin, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,

Rep. Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee,

Rep. Eliot Engel, Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee,

As concerned Americans and organizations representing a diverse group of ethnic communities, we write this letter to sound the alarm regarding the United States’ policy towards Russia.

From Transnistria in Moldova, to the illegal annexation of Crimea in Ukraine, Putin continues to violate the territorial integrity of multiple states in violation of international agreements and United Nations principles. The Budapest Memorandum, the Helsinki Final Act, the 6-point ceasefire plan with Georgia, and the Minsk agreements, all have fallen prey to Russia's aggression and disingenuousness in international affairs. Military provocations, airspace violations, ground invasions, and even threats of nuclear assault have become increasingly frequent in Putin's bullying of neighboring states, a phenomenon that cannot be allowed to continue. 

When the people of Ukraine took to the streets to demand more democratic freedoms and closer integration with Europe, Russia responded by invading and illegally occupying the Crimean peninsula, an action condemned at the UN by 100 member states. For a large number of Ukrainian nationals, journalists and the indigenous Crimean Tatar people who remain vulnerable in Crimea, fundamental human rights and freedoms have been eliminated or repeatedly violated according to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities. Following the invasion of Crimea, Russia then encroached upon Eastern Ukraine, militarily invading and occupying additional Ukrainian territories, in the process killing over 9,000, and displacing more than one million. According to the New York Times, 3.2 million Ukrainians now live amid destruction or are in dire need of humanitarian aid. Russia, to the point of absurdity, continues to deny the daily plethora of evidence that it is directly responsible for these events. When Russia’s separatist army shot down a passenger airliner over Eastern Ukraine, killing nearly 300 people, Russia flooded the media with false information and denials, ensuring that nobody was brought to justice. Its powers of obstruction may be as dangerous as its direct military action, as it protects war criminals and renders all negotiations and agreements null before they are even signed, a reality that the world must remember as it negotiates Syria’s fate with Russia. 

As in Ukraine, Russia continues to lie about its intentions and actions in Syria. Although Russia claims that its airstrikes are meant to target ISIS, Russian warplanes have in fact perpetrated several deliberate massacres of civilians and have systematically destroyed critical civilian infrastructure (hospitals, schools, markets) in violation of international law. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, since late September 2015, Russian airstrikes in Syria have killed over 2,300 people, including 792 civilians and 180 children.

Russian warplanes are likely assisting ISIS more than impeding it. The bulk of Russian operations in Syria have mainly targeted U.S.-backed opposition groups, who are also fighting ISIS. Additionally, they have propped up the Assad regime, which is buying oil from ISIS. Russia continues to coordinate its military aggression in Syria with U.S.-designated terrorist organizations including the Quds Force of Iran and its subsidiary Hezbollah. It should be noted that Russian coordination with Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force, is a direct violation of UN sanctions on Iran.

Even more ominously, Russia continues to antagonize NATO member Turkey, with the largest army in NATO besides the U.S. After constant airspace violations, followed by Turkey's shooting down a Russian jet, Russia bombed Turkish aid convoys and facilities and increasing the bombing of Syrian Turkmen fighting both Assad and ISIS. Increasingly lethal air defense systems, useless against ISIS, continue to be deployed by the Russians to ward off any Turkish or Coalition response, and Russia has begun imposing sanctions on Turkey. Furthermore, constant false accusations that the Turkish government is directly and intentionally supporting ISIS fill the Russian media. Unless the U.S. pushes back against both the false information as well as the increasing provocations, it will set a dangerous precedent for NATO allies all over the world threatened by Russia. 

The United States must take a stand for international peace and security. If the U.S. does not begin to curb Putin's aggressions now, it will have to do so under even more adverse circumstances and at a much higher cost. Inevitably, the Middle East will become even more unstable than at present, and Eastern Europe faces the same threat.

We therefore recommend the following multi-faceted approach:

•       Significant lethal assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, as well as expansion of the “Fearless Guardian II” training program;

•       The intensification of sanctions on Russia, including a possible ban on SWIFT banking, until Russia begins to respect international law and cease its violations;

•       A permanent NATO troop presence at brigade strength, including at least one sizable American contingent in the Baltics as a deterrent;

•       A ‘safe zone’ under the protection of U.S. and allied forces in Syria to protect civilians from airstrikes and pressure Russia to end its bombing campaign;

•       To strongly support NATO ally Turkey’s right to defend itself from Russian threats and provocations; 

The United States must move immediately, and in partnership with the international community, to curb and reverse Russia's aggressions in Eurasia and the Middle East. U.S. leadership is necessary to achieve this end. If not us, then who? And if not now, when?

American Latvian Association

Assembly of Turkish American Associations

Circassian Cultural Institute

Estonian American National Council

Free Russia Foundation

Joint Baltic American National Committee

Libyan American Public Affairs Council

Lithuanian American Council

Syrian American Council

Ukraine Congress Committee of America

World Congress of Crimean Tatars - Dünya Qırım Tatar Kongresi

-- 

Omar Hossino

Syrian American Council