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Marco Rubio lays out a plan to stifle Russia’s presence in Eastern Europe

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Over the past year, the U.S. has sent a variety of troops, including special operations forces, to exercises and training programs in Eastern Europe, including Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, but the long-term goal is to reduce our military presence in Eastern Europe.

Marco Rubio would reverse that emphasis.

“Instead of the temporary, mobile military presence deployed to NATO’s frontier, the United States should end planned force drawdowns in the region and work with allies to ensure that the European Reassurance Initiative leads to a more permanent forward defense,” the Florida senator and GOP presidential candidate writes in an op-ed for POLITICO.eu today.

The piece is being published on the 70th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in World II, and Rubio writes that the biggest challenge for the West to confront Russia’s “blatant attempt to overturn the post-World War order in Europe,” alluding to its annexing of Crimea and its presence in Eastern Ukraine over the past year. The conflict between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian government forces has claimed more than 6,000 lives and left large parts of the country’s industrial heartland in ruins.

Adding a more robust U.S. military presence to Eastern Europe to put a check on Russia is just one of five points that he emphasizes in the piece, titled, “My vision for Europe.”

The others include extending “sectoral” sanctions currently in place against Russia’s unconventional oil sector to traditional oil or gas sectors, as well as sanctioning other Russian officials included in the state-owned Gazprom oil conglomerate and other Russian-owned entities.

Allowing for more U.S. gas to be distributed into the global market to provide additional supply options for Ukraine and other U.S. allies in the region.

Sending more weapons to Ukraine to fight against the Russian-backed rebels (something that Rubio’s Florida Senate colleague, Bill Nelson, has also argued for the Obama administration to begin doing).

And enlarging NATO, specifically inviting Montenegro and even Ukraine (“if it chooses,” he writes) to the alliance.

You can read it all here:

“Today is the 70th anniversary of the allied victory in Europe — a day that stands as one of the greatest triumphs of freedom over oppression, liberty over tyranny, and good over evil in the history of the world. It speaks to the power of free peoples and free nations uniting together to pursue shared security and shared prosperity.

Even after 70 years, the U.S.-European partnership continues to play a vital role in global affairs. The defense of our people, the promotion of our interests, and the stability of an increasingly interconnected world all require us to cooperate closely, particularly given the renewed challenges we face.

One such challenge is Russia’s blatant attempt to overturn the post-World War II order in Europe. Handling this crisis will require innovative thinking from our alliance. Our goal should never be to needlessly antagonize Russia, but rather to ensure our efforts to strengthen Ukraine and rollback Russian aggression are coupled with a forward-looking agenda for Russia’s own future.

We also know, however, that we must never allow our desire for peace to lead us into weakness or inaction. We cannot continue to stand idly by while red line after red line is crossed and ceasefire after ceasefire is violated. Reversing this cycle will require America and our European partners to take a series of important steps.

First, we must commit to military reinforcement of Eastern Europe. Instead of the temporary, mobile military presence deployed to NATO’s frontier, the United States should end planned force drawdowns in the region and work with allies to ensure that the European Reassurance Initiative leads to a more permanent forward defense.

Second, in the absence of transatlantic agreement on steps such as barring Russia from access to SWIFT, the United States should extend the “sectoral” sanctions currently in place against Russia’s unconventional oil sector to the traditional oil or gas sectors; execute a statutory export ban on certain equipment and technology to Russia (e.g., relating to energy or defense); and impose true sectoral sanctions, as we have imposed against Iran (e.g., no foreign investment, provision of services, or involvement in exports or imports). We also need to sanction additional Russian officials, including those affiliated with Gazprom and other state-owned entities as well as others involved in human rights abuses.

Third, we must allow the liberalization of US gas exports. There is broad bipartisan support in the United States Congress for allowing natural gas exports to European allies. More U.S. gas on the global market will create global liquidity and alternative supply options for Ukraine and American allies, drive down prices, put pressure on Russia to re-negotiate the gas pipeline contracts that it uses as political leverage against its neighbors, and create jobs.

Fourth, we must provide increased assistance to Ukraine. The United States and willing allies must provide weaponry to help Ukraine defend itself. I believe it is a violation of our values to withhold arms assistance while Ukrainians are dying at the hands of Russian soldiers or because of Russian-provided weaponry. Economic assistance is also key. The Ukrainian economy faces significant pressures as Russia attempts to use the withholding of energy and finance as a weapon. To mitigate this, transatlantic assistance must be better-coordinated.

Fifth, we must enlarge NATO. Allies need to overcome the roadblocks to enlargement before the next NATO summit — including by inviting Montenegro to join the alliance — and to reaffirm that the open door policy is still intact and applies to any NATO aspirant, including Ukraine if it so chooses. Forged during the effort to bind postwar Europe together and to America, and proven through decades of the East-West conflict, NATO remains central to our security.

A more robust response to Russia’s ongoing aggression in Ukraine would reflect the same shared values that emerged victorious 70 years ago today. That victory was not just about the defeat of an enemy; it was also about the spread of a sacred ideal. As is written on the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.: “Americans came to liberate, not to conquer — to restore freedom and to end tyranny.”

As we face our own challenges today, let us never forget the sacrifices made by our ancestors 70 years ago. Let us always remember that the freedoms we cherish now were preserved by those who came before us, and that just like the greatest generation, we have a duty to preserve liberty for all those in the transatlantic community and beyond.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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