KIEV, Ukraine – A congressional delegation visiting Kiev said Sunday that Ukrainian officials were deeply concerned by a Russian troop buildup, worried that an unpredictable President Vladimir Putin could make a foray into eastern Ukraine, and determined to fight back if he did.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said the United States intends to warn Putin off by providing more help for Ukraine and promising Russia deeper financial pain if it refuses to back off its threatening stance.
We can provide military assistance, small arms, communication equipment, fuel, Ayotte said at a news conference, adding that the Ukrainian military was in disrepair after years of neglect by now-deposed President Viktor Yanukovych. We’ll help rebuild it.
No boots on the ground – either American or NATO – were being discussed, she said: We’re not looking for a military conflict with Russia.
Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., who is part of the delegation, said the United States needs to think long and hard about what has happened here, referring to U.S. obligations under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in return for a guarantee of security from the United States, Britain – and Russia.
If Russia’s annexation of Crimea goes unpunished, Lynch said, the world will send a message to other countries that it is a bad idea to part with nuclear weapons.
Ayotte said that she supported the sanctions President Barack Obama imposed on Putin’s inner circle last week and that they should now be ratcheted up, warning Putin that he will pay a price for further incursions.
I believe sanctions can hurt their economy, she said.
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said: This is not about President Obama or Democrats or Republicans. This is the united people of the United States standing with the Ukrainian people.
The delegation spent part of the day at the Maidan, the square where protesters gathered in November and stayed until Yanukovych fled Feb. 22. Many of them remain, even now, to remind the new government that the people are watching them.
In separate interviews Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation, Ayotte and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said that the United States should provide Ukraine with whatever military equipment it needs to help ensure the Russians do not occupy or attempt to take over any other parts of the country.
This army in Ukraine was devastated by Yanukovych, Durbin said. It is so weak now that there are maybe 6,000 troops ready to go to battle. We’ve got to strengthen them and help them with advice and backing, and it may come to small arms. I’m not ruling that out. Keep it on the table. For the time being, let’s help the Ukrainian army get on its feet as a self-defense force.