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Over the past two weeks, the Trump Administration has taken necessary and aggressive action to punish and deter two of the most destabilizing forces in the world today: the Russian mafia-state led by Vladimir Putin and the radical Islamic theocracy in Iran led by Ayatollah Khameini. While these new sanctions have been levied for different offenses, together they send the message that rogue actors will pay a price for their deadly and destabilizing activities.
Since 2008, Putin’s efforts to upset global stability have increased ten-fold. At his direction, Russia has invaded sovereign territory in Georgia and initiated a war against Ukraine, forcefully acquiring the Crimean Peninsula. He supports the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, indiscriminately targeting civilian populations, resulting in tens of thousands of civilian casualties. Putin has supported, through illicit means and illegal money laundering, racist, nationalist political parties across Europe. He has used information warfare to increase distrust in political processes and elections – including our own. He has even ordered the murder of civilians on foreign soil.
On March 4, a former Russian military officer and dual Russian and British citizen, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned using Novichok nerve agent. Novichok is a chemical weapon created solely by the Soviet Union and subsequently banned by international law. Had the Russian agents been successful, these potential murders would have been the 16th and 17th murders on British soil ordered by Vladimir Putin. According to the Chemical and Biological Weapons and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991, we can take specific action against the perpetrators of any chemical weapons attack. Now that we are sure the Russians carried out this attack, we can prohibit the export of a long list of electronic components and other technologies that could be used for military purposes. If after 90 days, the Russians fail to allow U.N. inspectors into their facilities, they can expect measures that are even more punishing. These new measures, combined with the existing sanctions implemented over the past year, send a strong signal to Putin that his actions will result in severe consequences.
The Khameini regime’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East are possibly even more destructive. In Lebanon, they support Hezbollah, a political party turned radical Islamic militia who has corrupted the Lebanese government and has expanded their illicit activities around the world. During the height of the Iraq War, Iran-backed Shia militias killed and wounded thousands of American and Iraqi soldiers and civilians. They continue to provide safe haven for a variety of terrorist organizations and their leadership. They currently support a Houthi militia in Yemen whose civil war has led to incredible humanitarian suffering. Despite very generous terms in the nuclear deal, they have continued to improve their ballistic missile technology and increased their support for radical militias around the region. In coordination with the Russians, they continue to support the Assad regime in Syria, prolonging a civil war that has led to more than 400,000 killed and nearly 11 million refugees both inside and outside the country.
Our issue is not with the people of either country, but rather with the men who are acting as their leaders, promoting war and genocide, ordering the murder of civilians on foreign soil, disrupting and destroying electoral processes and democratic institutions across the West, and insist that these atrocities are somehow in their national interests. They are wrong. Until these despotic regimes understand this fact and begin to change their behavior, they can continue to expect the full economic and diplomatic might of the United States and its allies to be leveraged against them. My colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Congress are united in the belief that we must take a strong stand against these rogue actors. We will continue to challenge Russia and Iran with all tools necessary until they abandon their efforts to destroy global stability.
Col. Paul Cook (Ret.) represents California’s 8th Congressional District and currently serves on the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Natural Resources committees. He served in the United States Marine Corps for 26 years, earning two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star Medal with a V for Valor.