Sen. Rand Paul Defends Dialogue with Russia

Kentucky Republican says Vladimir Putin's nation is too important to ignore, despite deep policy differences

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is on a political island, waging a lonely fight in Washington against shutting off all connections to Russia.

The junior senator from Kentucky (pictured above center), one of two senators who last year voted against imposing additional sanctions on Russia in response to its election meddling, said Tuesday on “The Laura Ingraham Show” that it is a mistake to let differences with Russia prevent all conversations.

“Senators, they say, ‘Putting on sanctions will punish Russia, and then they’ll do what we want them to do,'” said Paul, who recently led a congressional delegation to Moscow. “But in reality what happens is that for every action, there is a reaction.”

One of those reactions, Paul noted, was an order by Russia to cut off adoptions of Russian children by Americans. He said cultural and student exchanges also have been severely curtailed.

It is a mistake, Paul said, because the United States and Russia have too many overlapping interests. He said the civil war in Syria, for example, cannot end without Russia’s involvement. He pointed out also that a nuclear arms reduction treaty former President Barack Obama negotiated is due to expire in 2021.

Paul expressed optimism over his trip to Russia, which included conversations with Russian lawmakers and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

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The senator said he invited Russian legislators to continue the conversation in Washington, but he added that some of them face sanctions and cannot travel to the United States.

“Even if you want to tell them you’re unhappy with them, how do you tell them you’re unhappy, or how do you tell them to change their behavior, if you’re not willing to talk to them?” he said.

Paul said he agrees that Russia was wrong to invade Ukraine and break off Crimea. But he added, “The problem with that, as I see it, is that we have many other things we need to discuss.”

The senator recounted his conversation with Gorbachev, who presided over the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union. He said they discussed Gorbachev’s meetings with his American counterpart, Ronald Reagan.

“And, perhaps, engagement with Russia is a way to sort of counter Russia going into the orbit of China, or becoming closer to China.”

“We talked about his relations with Russia. We talked about their initial impressions of each other,” he said. “And we also talked about what came out of their meetings. The treaties that came out of it was a lessening of nuclear tensions, an idea of feeling that we made the world a much safer place by having dialogue. He continues to believe that Putin and Trump should continue to have dialogue.”

Paul said part of the reason former President Richard Nixon opened relations with China in the 1970s was to counterbalance the power of the Soviet Union.

“Now, we have sort of the reverse,” he said. “China is this behemoth. And, perhaps, engagement with Russia is a way to sort of counter Russia going into the orbit of China, or becoming closer to China. So there are all kinds of geopolitical reasons we should talk to Russia.”

(photo credit, article image: Rand Paul, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore)

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