Mr. Speaker, Vladimir Putin has again reminded the world that he has no respect for international law, sovereignty of neighboring states, or peace in our world. Since 2014, Russia has illegally occupied Crimea and fueled a war in Eastern Ukraine. That followed Moscow's 2008 invasion of Georgia where its forces still occupy Georgian territory. Now, Russian forces have conducted another act of unprovoked aggression by blocking the Kerch Strait and attacking Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea.

This act of war is just another chapter in Putin's violent conquest of his neighbors' territory. His goal is to restore the power of Russia's imperial past. To do so requires seizing the lands and waters that were once controlled by Moscow and denying the right of free peoples to determine their own fate. Putin, an authoritarian thug, fears the democratic aspirations of nations that have shed the tyranny of the old Russian and Soviet orders.

The success of the Color Revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia and their growing integration with the West strikes fear into the heart of a dictator like Putin, who relies on brutality and fear to cling to power. To survive, he has falsely framed the rising tide of democracy in the post-Soviet space as a threat to Russia, when in fact it is only a threat to Putin and his oligarch friends.

The illegal annexation of Crimea and this week's seizure of the Sea of Azov are Putin's attempt to intimidate and undermine Ukraine's nascent democracy. By controlling these key strategic points, Putin believes he can demonstrate that only the Kremlin can ensure security and prosperity in the region and that Europe and America care little for the plight of Ukrainians. Instead it shows that Putin is a belligerent thug who only has violence and despair to offer.

We Americans must stand with Ukraine. The Ukrainian people want to share in the freedom and wealth we long ago secured for ourselves by breaking the chains of foreign tyranny. Americans did not fight alone when we gained our independence, and Ukraine should not be left to fight alone either. We must develop a grand strategy to halt Putin's aggression and liberate the areas he illegally seized. This does not mean a direct conflict between the United States and Russia, but it does require us to act before Putin becomes so confident that he does attempt a direct assault on us or our NATO allies. America has the tools and leverage to thwart Putin's wicked ambitions--it's time to use them.

And that's just the way it is.