Opinion

The Great Debate

To punish Putin, help Ukraine

Sunday’s referendum in Crimea and provocative Russian troop maneuvers have raised the Ukraine crisis to new heights.

Congress has expressed strong support for Ukraine and condemned Russia’s seizure of Crimea. Unfortunately, some on Capitol Hill are pushing ideas that would do little to punish Moscow while undercutting U.S. and NATO security interests. Congress needs to be smart in how it seeks to help Ukraine and punish Russia.

A whirlwind has engulfed Ukraine since former President Viktor Yanukovich fled Kiev on February 21 and the Russian military occupied Crimea one week later. In response, Democrats and Republicans have backed Ukraine, called for Moscow’s international isolation, and supported steps to assure NATO allies in Central Europe.

Congress is now considering legislation to broaden sanctions against individual Russians. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) led a delegation to Kiev to underscore U.S. support.

These are useful measures. Other ideas circulating on the Hill, however, make less sense.

U.S. currency bill likely misses target

U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D, New York) and Lindsey Graham (R, South Carolina) have announced plans to introduce a bill allowing the Commerce Department to take account of currency undervaluation when calculating anti-dumping duties.

The target is clearly China. It threatens to inflame the already rancorous and dangerously escalating dispute with Beijing over exchange rate policy to no good purpose.
Legislative pressure will not make China’s government any more likely to accelerate the renminbi’s revaluation. If anything it will cause the government to postpone a revaluation most officials concede will eventually be necessary.
China’s government cannot afford to show weakness in succumbing to pressure from “western devils” (“gwai lo”) without losing face in the eyes of its own public. China’s Premier Wen Jiabao has already branded U.S. pressure on the currency issue as a form of “protectionism.” The Schumer-Graham bill is likely to draw an even more angry response.

So the Schumer-Graham bill is a piece of election year theatre, but a counterproductive one. It threatens to worsen already poor relations between two countries that need to be friends but are currently experiencing a steady escalation in tensions on everything from economics to Tibet and weapons sales to Taiwan.

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