D.C. Dispatch: Iowa legislators call for action on Russian invasion of Ukraine

By: - September 30, 2022 4:41 pm

Firefighters try to extinguish a fire after a chemical warehouse was hit by Russian shelling on the eastern frontline near Kalynivka village on March 08, 2022, in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

As tensions mount with Russia, Iowa’s U.S. senators pushed for foreign policy action in Washington this week.

Iowa lawmakers also worked to expand disclosure by foreign lobbyists and sought an investigation of land acquisition by a Chinese company near a U.S. military base.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst called for the U.S. to deny recognition of Russia’s sovereignty claims in Ukraine. She introduced the Non-Recognition of Russian Annexation of Ukrainian Territory Act alongside Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.

The action follows referendums in four Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, in which voters overwhelmingly supported joining the Russian Federation, according to Russian news reports. Ukrainian state officials and international allies have said that the referendums were fraudulent and illegal under international law.

Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a decree Friday annexing the four regions into Russia Friday.

The legislation Ernst introduced would prevent the U.S. government from recognizing Russian sovereignty over “any portion of the sovereign territory of Ukraine.” It would prevent government departments and agencies from taking actions or offering assistance that recognizes Russian control over the eastern Ukrainian territories. The bill is a way to show the United States stands with Ukraine, Ernst said in a news release.

“No kind of Putin propaganda can change what the world knows,” Ernst said. “His claims over Ukraine are illegitimate and hostile.”

The annexation is the latest escalation of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, which began in February. U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley introduced the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act in May with a bipartisan group in response to reports of war crimes committed by Russian soldiers in Ukraine. The legislation would allow U.S. courts to prosecute war criminals for acts which happened abroad and were committed against non-Americans. It also extends the statute of limitations for war crimes.

The House also sent legislation to President Biden’s desk Friday providing an additional $12 billion in aid to Ukraine to continue its defense against Russia.

Grassley brought up the act again Thursday in response to the release of a United Nations’ Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine earlier in September, which alleged Russia committed war crimes in the Ukraine invasion. The bill should pass to show that people who commit war crimes are not welcome in the U.S., no matter when or where the offense was committed, he said.

“This disturbing report confirms that Russian troops are carrying out heinous attacks on innocent Ukrainians as they continue waging an unjust war,” Grassley said in a statement Thursday. “These inhumane and unprovoked crimes, conducted under Putin’s watch, cannot go unpunished.”

Grassley praises Senate action on foreign lobbyist disclosures

Grassley also praised the Senate for passing legislation he introduced alongside Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters targeting foreign lobbying efforts. While lobbyists and lobbying organizations are required to disclose their activities and connections, a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a D.C.-based think tank, found the Chinese Communist Party’s influence on Chinese businesses and organizations may mean private corporations are pushing Chinese interests, even when the businesses are not officially state-affiliated.

The act would require foreign governments and parties to disclose their activity in lobbying efforts, regardless of direct financial contribution. While Grassley focused on China’s potential secret lobbying efforts, Democratic backers of the legislation said the bill could also help track potential Russian influence on U.S. politics.

“By improving transparency about foreign lobbying activities, this bipartisan bill will help prevent foreign adversaries, including the Chinese and Russian governments, from influencing our political process and advancing agendas that run against the best interests of the American people,” Peters said.

Iowa lawmakers join call for investigation of Chinese company’s land purchase

In the House, U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson and Randy Feenstra also brought up concerns about Chinese companies’ actions in the United States. The two Iowa Republicans joined a letter with 49 other House Republicans calling for members of President Joe Biden’s administration to investigate the company Fufeng’s purchase of land near the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. The company Fufeng USA, which purchased the property for a wet corn milling plant, is owned by China-based Fufeng Group Ltd.

The lawmakers called for the Biden administration to take action addressing the potential national security risks they said could arise from the company’s proximity to a U.S. military base.

“The presence of a CCP-affiliated corporation near a military installation potentially undermines the integrity of our high-capability military bases, jeopardizing our strategic interests,” they wrote.

Feenstra said he’s talked with Iowans who are concerned about the “Chinese Communist Party’s mission to buy up American land.”

“As the strongest nation in the world, we cannot allow groups with close ties to the CCP to purchase American land near our military bases, which is a direct threat to our national security,” Feenstra said in a news release. “I will continue to work with my colleagues to hold the CCP accountable and stand up for Iowa farmers and our troops.”

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.