Former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, slammed President Barack Obama’s administration during Senate confirmation hearings Tuesday for its response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Tillerson, who has faced bipartisan criticism for his business ties to the Kremlin, deemed the Obama White House’s response to Russia’s unexpected yet forceful seizure of Crimea as “weak.”
“In terms of the taking of Crimea, I think, my understanding is that caught a lot of people by surprise,” Tillerson told Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who was questioning the oilman on the matter. “So I think the real question was the response to the taking of Crimea that then led to subsequent actions by Russia.”
Tillerson suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not have launched subsequent military intervention in Ukraine had Obama taken bolder action against the Kremlin when Crimea was annexed.
“I think the absence of a very firm and forceful response to the taking of Crimea was judged by the leadership in Russia as a weak response,” he told Cardin.
Tillerson then outlined what he would have done, if he have been at the helm in 2014:
I would have recommended that Ukraine take all of its military assets that it had available, put them at the eastern border, provide those assets with defensive weapons that are necessary just to defend themselves, announce that the U.S. is going to provide them intelligence and that [either] NATO or U.S. will provide air surveillance over that border to monitor any movements.
“I think what Russian leadership would have understood,” he continued, “is a powerful response that indicated a, yes, you took Crimea, but this stops right here. … If Russia acts with force — taking of Crimea was an act of force; they didn’t just volunteer themselves — so it required a proportional show of force to indicate to Russia that there will be no more taking of territory.”
Cardin seemed pleased with Tillerson’s answer on the issue, suggesting that Trump’s positions on Russia have not been as clearly outlined.