Choosing Sides: The Congress Should Freeze Aid to Countries Buying Russian Gas

Below is my column in the Hill on a proposal for legislation to address allies supporting Russia through gas contracts. Congress can constitutionally freeze aid to countries undermining sanctions by buying cut-rate gas from the Putin regime. In the meantime, India’s major gas contract pumping money into the Russian economy will not be treated by the Biden Administration as a sanctions violation. Congress can force a bright line on foreign aid that aligns with our public and moral positions on Ukraine. Under its Article I powers, Congress can condition such foreign aid and, if necessary, override a veto from President Joe Biden.

Here is the column:

As Russian forces lay waste to Ukraine in an unprovoked war, U.S. senators acted this week to “send an unmistakable message that the U.S. Senate stands with Ukraine, stands against Putin.” The message was a resolution supporting an investigation into war crimes in the conflict.

In reality, there are legal barriers to holding Russia’s Vladimir Putin responsible for war crimes, even though the evidence of such crimes mounts by the day. The fact is, international economics rather than international law is more likely to force an end to Putin’s regime. Yet that effort is being undermined by our own allies, who continue to give billions in life support to Putin’s otherwise comatose economy. (In fairness to countries like Germany, the Biden administration also initially resisted severing Russian gas, even though America buys a far lower percentage of its energy from Russia.)

Unfortunately, Congress is spending time on dubious “economic” measures that are politically popular but likely legally ineffectual. Take the bill “Yachts for Ukraine,” which combines a brilliantly sound-bited title with a universal revulsion for yacht-owning oligarchs. In reality, it is far easier to seize a yacht than to keep it; most of these oligarchs are likely to recover their yachts, and might even successfully sue the United States for damages and costs.

What sustains Putin is oil, not oligarchs. Yet, from the outset, President Biden emphasized that “The goal was to maximize impact on Putin and Russia and minimize the harm on us and our allies and friends around the world.”

Well, it is time to choose. You cannot “stand with Ukraine” while funding Russia.

Some countries are openly opportunistic. Russia on the ropes means gas on the cheap. When Russia unleashed hell on Ukraine, the first in line in Moscow was Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who openly sought “a major gas pipeline deal.” India was not far behind in inking a deal for cut-rate Russian gas.

The Biden administration warned China that it would take action should Beijing help Russia evade Western sanctions, but it has struggled to avoid criticizing India, even when India abstained from the vote by 141 nations in the United Nations to denounce Russia for its invasion.

A State Department cable recently warned diplomats that India and the United Arab Emirates were “in Russia’s camp” regarding Ukraine. (When the cable was leaked, it was promptly recalled by the Biden administration.)

India has entirely decoupled its diplomacy from morality — and from the teachings of Gandhi, who once warned that “Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as it is to cooperate with the good.”

In response, Congress should draw a clear line for both the Biden administration and our allies.

We have an inherently conflicted foreign policy: First, we ask U.S. citizens to bear the costs of cutting off Russian aid and of sending billions to Ukraine to fight Russia, and then we send billions to foreign countries that are giving money to Russia through gas deals. It is like draining a pool on one end while pumping the water back in at the other end.

The solution? Congress should pass a law that freezes foreign aid to countries purchasing Russian energy products in circumvention of sanctions. That money could then be redirected to Ukraine or returned to U.S. taxpayers in the form of gas-price relief.

In 2019, U.S. foreign assistance totaled an estimated $48.18 billion, or 1 percent of the federal budget authority. The objectives of foreign aid have been reduced to five basic categories: “Peace and Security, Investing in People, Governing Justly and Democratically, Economic Growth, and Humanitarian Assistance.” Helping Russia to evade sanctions is antithetical to all five of these goals, as well as U.S. interests and foreign policy.

In 2019, Congress opposed an effort by the Trump administration to freeze foreign aid. Congress itself, however, can condition these funds. It is entirely reasonable to condition aid on the respect of U.S. sanctions on Russia. Indeed, every aid dollar given to Pakistan, India or other countries effectively allows those countries to spend another dollar in subsidizing Russia.

In the recent U.N. vote, the world stood largely united against Russia’s invasion. Only five nations voted against the measure, including the United Arab Emirates. Thirty-five countries could not muster the moral courage to even condemn the invasion, including India, Pakistan, South Africa and other major U.S. aid recipients. The list included 16 African nations.

The inclusion of South Africa was particularly striking, since many countries and companies supported the Sullivan Principles and the boycotting of South Africa under apartheid. It is a country reborn in the cause of freedom from tyranny. Nelson Mandela famously declared that “to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” It is now criticizing the West for its actions on Ukraine while refusing to condemn Russia.

Congress cannot legislate morality in its own citizens, let alone those of other countries. It can, however, use our foreign aid to hold the line against tyranny. It is not possible “to maximize impact on Putin and Russia and minimize the harm on us and our allies and friends around the world.” We have to choose a side, as do our allies. They can choose petrol over principles if they wish — but they should do so without the aid of American taxpayers.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

163 thoughts on “Choosing Sides: The Congress Should Freeze Aid to Countries Buying Russian Gas”

  1. The elite(including Turley) are far removed from the consequences of their proposed actions. That is why they do not seem to care about the fact that the bottom 90% of our population are drowning in inflation. Cutting the US off from Russia, China, India, Brazil, et al will crush our economy yet they persist. They are reaping a whirlwind that will devastate everyone in the end.

  2. World War II strarted in 1937 in China. It began in Europe within a few days of Hitler’s attack on Poland because Britain and France declared war on Germany, even though they did not come to Poland’s aid. Germany’s ally, Italy, did not enter the war until June 1940. The USSR also attacked Poland in 1939, but then remained neutral until June 1941 when Germany attacked it. The United States entered in December 1941, after Japan attacked its military and naval bases in the Pacific, but by 1938 it was already using Claire Chennault’s “volunteers” to fight the Japanese in China and planning to use B-17s to fire-bomb Japan once they were available. A link to a review by Martin Scherwin of Michael Schaller’s The US Crusade in China, 1938-1945.
    https://www.nytimes.com/1979/01/14/archives/some-chinese-puzzles-china.html
    Regime change is a polite term for subversion and the antithesis of democracy and representative government because it depends on the violent overthrow of an existing government by an armed minority, without consulting the people of the state being targeted. The results of regime change tend to be dramatic, but they are not predictable, as Libya, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan have shown.

    1. Dear (Fill in country) please stop buying gas from Russia. No, I don’t know where you SHOULD get gas, but, just STOP, okay??
      Thanks a lot, your pal for life,
      JB
      p.s. if you don’t stop…kiss all that free stuff goodbye. Jes sayin

  3. So, on September 1, 1939, World War 2 didn’t really start on September 1, 1939 because enough of the future had not happened yet to determine this?

    1. Over 60,000,000 people died in WW2.

      How many do you expect to die in WW3?

      You seem to want WW3. That’s a deeply sick stance. Seek help.

  4. If WW2 is considered as having started with Hitler’s invasion of Poland, why can’t WW3 be considered as having started with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine?

    1. Whether it is or isn’t will depend on what happens in the future, not on what has happened thus far. When the US invaded Viet Nam, it didn’t start WW3. When the US invaded Iraq, it didn’t start WW3. Let’s hope that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine doesn’t start WW3 either.

      You seem to want WW3. That’s a deeply sick stance. Seek help.

  5. When Russians signed-up for the army, they did so with the understanding that they could sacrifice their lives for their country.
    Iinstead of sacrificing their lives for nothing in Ukraine, why don’t they sacrifice their lives for something by overthrowing Putin?
    It would be a more just and noble cause.

  6. anon @ 8:40

    Uh, it was Russia that broke the Nazis in WW2, but never mind.

    If by “stop it” you mean blowing up the world in a nuclear war with Russia, then you are right. You happy now moron?

  7. Did WW2 start when the United States entered it? No. WW2 was already going on. It took the US to stop it.
    Will WW3 start when the United States enters it. No. WW3 is already going on. It will take the US to stop it.

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