US senators come to Kyiv to show support, send message to Putin amid Russian invasion fears
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, and other top Ukrainian officials in Kyiv.
As Ukrainians were watching court proceedings in a treason trial against former President Petro Poroshenko, the delegation of seven U.S. senators arrived in Kyiv early on Jan. 17 to show support for Ukraine.
The U.S. senators – Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) – met with a number of Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“We believe that this is a crucial time for us to come,” Sen. Portman said.
“In 2014 Ukraine chose to turn away from its authoritarian past and turn to freedom, prosperity, and democracy. You chose to embrace the West, to stand with us. It is now our turn to stand with you.”
The senators visit comes amid a peak in fears of renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine. Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s eastern border and in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories.
The Kremlin claims it is preparing to respond to any “provocation” by Ukraine in the Donbas – where Russia has been waging a covert war on Ukraine for almost eight years. Meanwhile, U.S. and Ukrainian intelligence have both warned of possible Russian false flag operations in the region, one that may give the Kremlin a pretext to start a full-scale war.
“We have a message we want to send to Russia today: We stand with the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government,” Portman said.
“We want to hold (Russian President Vladimir) Putin accountable,” Sen. Shaheen added.
“He should understand that Congress, the (U.S. President Joe) Biden administration and our allies have a united front against any intention of Putin and the Russians to invade Ukraine.”
The U.S. Congress recently passed a bill to increase defense aid to Ukraine to $300 million. A plane with military aid from the United States arrived in Ukraine last week, and another is coming next week, Shaheen said.
Recently, U.S. senators also tabled the Defending Ukraine Sovereignty Act 2022. If adopted, the bill will introduce steep costs for the Kremlin if it invades Ukraine.
“It would not only take on Russia in a variety of ways, including economic, targeting the extractive industries of Russia,” Shaheen said.
“(There are) sanctions against Vladimir Putin himself, as well as military leaders who might precipitate a crisis in Ukraine.”
The Ukrainian government has called on its allies to impose sanctions not after, but before, any Russian invasion happens. Sen. Cramer said this was quite possible if the U.S. Congress adopts a united position on the issue.
“I hope we will be able to pass legislation (on that) as soon as possible,“ Cramer said.
With or without the Defending Ukraine Sovereignty Act 2022 or some version of it, Biden has significant authority to move ahead with sanctions on his own.
“This legislation will give additional tools to President Biden,” Cramer said. “But he is already moving as we speak to build a set of multilateral sanctions.”
In a rare act of unity for Democrats and Republicans, all seven U.S. senators present assured they would do everything in their strength to protect Ukraine’s right to choose its own path.
“All our efforts are aimed at giving Ukraine the ability to defend itself,” Portman said.
“We join with our allies in the free world, making clear our support for Ukraine in response to unwarranted and unprovoked Russian aggression.”
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