Sen. Rand Paul floated the possibility of a dialogue with Russia about keeping NATO from further expanding its umbrella into Eastern Europe.
The Kentucky Republican, who recently returned from a trip to Russia for meetings with Russian lawmakers, suggested that the country’s leaders may have fears of NATO seeking to go as far as expanding into Georgia and Ukraine.
“Sanctions are sort of the stick, and the question is what is the carrot. I would say that one of the carrots might be considering whether or not we continue to insist that Ukraine and Georgia be in NATO,” Paul said. “I think that if you really wanted to influence Russia’s behavior and you were talking in a one-to-one basis with Russia and you were to have some sort of agreement, I think an agreement not to have Ukraine and Georgia in NATO might lead to less conflict in both Ukraine and Georgia.”
Paul was speaking at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S.-Russian relations featuring testimony from both the State Department and the Department of the Treasury.
Paul’s questions and commentary were much different from Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle who took a harder line toward President Vladimir Putin. But Paul asked whether the existing U.S. sanctions regime is working and what an alternative might look like.
“A really important question that we have to ask is: do sanctions change behavior? And so, without the answer to that, I think we can’t really decide whether we want more sanctions,” Paul said. “I think one possibility is that they don’t work, and if they don’t work, what is the result of sanctions?”
The Kentucky Republican suggested the Putin government could become more closely aligned with China as a result of economic pressure by the United States.
“I think there are arguments to be made that perhaps more sanctions aren’t the way to go,” Paul said.
Paul has said previously that he would be bringing up with President Donald Trump the possibility of easing sanctions to allow members of the Russian parliament to come to Washington, D.C., as part of exchanges.
Trump played golf with Paul over the weekend at the president’s country club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
He made a similar statement during his remarks at the Foreign Relations panel on Tuesday morning. The hearing came following revelations by Microsoft about recent Russian-backed hacking efforts.
“Whether or not there’s any element of the sanctions where we would be willing to negotiate lessening of sanctions in exchange for maybe a smaller change of behavior. If we wait for Russia to leave Crimea to lift any sanctions, we may well be waiting ’til the end of time,” Paul said.
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