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U.S. Lawmakers Seek Clarity On White House Russia Policy Review

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki

WASHINGTON -- U.S. lawmakers are pushing for details on an ongoing White House review of its policy toward Russia amid escalating violence between Ukrainian forces and pro-Moscow rebels that Western leaders accuse the Kremlin of backing.

An aide to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told RFE/RL on February 2 that the committee has submitted a request to U.S. President Barack Obama's administration for a briefing on the review but that so far nothing has been scheduled.

The U.S. House of Representatives' foreign affairs committee is also seeking information about the policy review, an aide to the committee told RFE/RL.

"If the administration is rethinking our Russia policy, Congress should be kept informed on that process," the aide said. "To that end, we're working on a bipartisan and bicameral basis to engage the Department of State and interagency on where this review is going."

A senior U.S. administration official told RFE/RL that the "comprehensive review of our Russia policy" was launched "in light of Russia's destabilizing and counterproductive actions over the last year, particularly in Ukraine."

"This review is examining Russia's policies, actions, and intentions in the global arena, and what implications they should have for U.S. policy," the official said, adding that the review "remains underway."

The New York Times reported in November that the review is being spearheaded by the White House and has "produced several drafts" of a strategy aimed at combating Russian President Vladimir Putin's policies while keeping the door open for cooperation on issues such as Iran, counterterrorism efforts, and "nuclear nonproliferation."

Meanwhile, Bloomberg View reported in late December that Obama's National Security Council had completed the review. It cited three senior administration officials as saying that the review included dozens of meetings and input from the State Department, Defense Department, and several other agencies.

The Obama administration's bid to recalibrate its policy toward Russia comes amid a rapidly deteriorating security situation in eastern Ukraine, where more than 5,100 people have been killed in the armed conflict that erupted in April.

Pro-Russian separatists have stepped up attacks against Ukrainian forces in recent weeks, while rights activists have accused both sides of indiscriminate shelling of densely populated areas.

Kyiv and Western nations accuse Russia of supplying weapons, personnel, and cash to the rebels, a charge Russia has repeatedly denied.

The New York Times reported on February 1 that senior U.S. administration and military officials are considering supplying defensive arms and are "open to new discussions about providing lethal aid" to Ukrainian forces to prevent Kyiv from ceding further territory to the separatists.

Asked about the reports of potential U.S. lethal aid to Kyiv, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a February 2 press briefing that officials in Washington "are constantly assessing our policies on Ukraine to ensure they are responsive, appropriated, and calibrated to achieve our objectives."

"Our focus does remain on pursuing a solution through diplomatic means, and we are always evaluating other options that will help create space for a negotiated solution to the crisis," Psaki said.

With reporting by The New York Times and Bloomberg View
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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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