DENVER — With so much political division in the country in recent years, in moments of crisis, unity sends a powerful message.
On the floor of the Colorado State Senate Friday, Republicans and Democrats stood together in solidarity for their support of Ukraine.
The Senate discussed and unanimously passed a resolution to stand by the Ukrainian people, condemning the illegal invasion by Russia and urging Vladimir Putin to end the bloodshed.
“We’re stating clearly our response as Colorado is that we stand with the people of Ukraine, that we support them and that we are calling for the strongest possible response to the Russian government,” said Sen. Chris Hansen, R-Parker.
One by one, senators went to the well to share their emotions over the Russian invasion. Sen. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, told her colleagues that the crisis hits home for her because her family has ties to both Ukraine and Russia.
Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, spoke about the refugees who will inevitably need help and protection in the coming weeks and months as they flee their home country. Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, spoke as a father, saying the images of fathers putting their children on trains before heading off to join the army were haunting.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, spoke about his time in Ukraine in 2014 when he served as an observer in two of the country’s elections.
“It’s heartbreaking because some of the neighborhoods in Kyiv that I observed elections in in 2014 were hit by rockets and missiles in the past 24 hours, and I think about those people that I saw go to the polls and now they're in the underground,” Gardner told Denver7.
The year Gardener went to observe the election was the same year of Russia’s last major aggression against Ukraine, when it invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula on the southern coast of the country. It is still under Russian control to this day.
Even after that aggression, Gardner says the people of Ukraine were resilient and determined to define their own democratic future.
“I have wonderful memories of the Ukrainians going to the polls very shortly after the Maidan protest, desperately wanting a democratic government that was free, open and transparent,” he said. “The idea that those people are making Molotov cocktails today, it breaks my heart.”
Gardner supports the U.S. sanctions on Ukraine and says Colorado needs to do its part by supporting the sanctions and accepting refugees.
Hansen, meanwhile, says there are clear ways the state and Coloradans can help, like transitioning away from Russian oil and gas.
“One of the greatest ways we can take away power from President Putin, it's to get off of Russian oil and gas as fast as we can, and Colorado has a part to play in that," Hansen said. "It's obviously a global economy."
The second way Hansen believes Colorado can help is through the economic sanctions levied against Russia’s financial institutions.
"There are a few limited examples where Colorado may have bundled assets, say in PERA or in local financial institutions where we need to divest and get rid of all financial connection to the Russian government,” he said. “Anything we can do to ratchet up the economic pain and stringent sanctions, Colorado needs to do its part.”
On Friday, the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association announced it will divest $7.2 million from a Russian bank as part of the federal sanctions. The pension fund has a total of $8 million invested into five Russian companies- Sberbank, OGK-2, Gazprom, Mosenergo, and Rosneft Oil.
“On, February 24, Governor Polis made a request to the PERA board that is consistent with what has been included in the federal mandates pertaining to sanctions on Russian-owned assets. U.S. sanctions remain fluid and include a combination of freezing assets, divesting of assets and not investing additional funds in Russian assets. PERA is reviewing and preparing to implement the federal mandates within the required time specifications,” Patrick von Keyserling, a senior director of communications with Colorado PERA, said in a statement.
During a press conference primarily focused on COVID-19 Friday, Governor Jared Polis spent some time talking about the state’s response to Russia.
Polis signed a three-page executive order Thursday directing the executive directors of the Office of Information Technology and Department of Personnel and Administration to review state contracts and determine if any are with Russian state-owned companies directly or as subcontractors.
“We have to ask and verify of all of our contractors to see where that business is being done because we have less visibility into them," said Polis. "But we're committed to making sure that the state of Colorado is not, in any way, empowering the regime of Vladimir Putin and Russia."
Polis says the state does not have records of which subcontractors have Russian ties, but if any do, he has ordered the two departments to work to terminate the contracts. He also directed his state agency to ensure that future procurement efforts analyze any possible connections with Russian state-owned companies.
The governor ordered the agencies to refocus on protecting critical infrastructure from Russian cyberattacks or misinformation efforts.
Finally, the executive order directed the Office of New Americans to look for ways to support Ukrainian-born Coloradans and those who are fleeing this conflict, including coming up with housing for refugees.
“Colorado proudly stands with the free and independent nation of Ukraine,” Polis said. “We are looking at any additional step that we can take to make Putin pay for his war of aggression against the democratic state of Ukraine.”