Arizona Sen. John McCain is heading back to Ukraine on Thursday, leading a bipartisan group to meet with government leaders in Kiev. As the Russian occupation of Crimea continues, Crimeans are preparing to vote on a referendum on seceding from Kiev this weekend, even as the international community (and Ukraine) insist the vote is not legal.
Senator John McCain, Arizona
Senator Dick Durbin, Illinois
Senator Chris Murphy, Connecticut
Senator Ron Johnson, Wisconsin
Senator John Barrasso, Wyoming
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island
Senator John Hoeven, North Dakota
Senator Jeff Flake, Arizona
Senator McCain: I’m Senator John McCain of Arizona and I’m pleased to be joined today with a bipartisan group of my colleagues: Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, my fellow Senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake.
I won’t forget ever when Senator Murphy and I were here four months ago and we stood in the Trade Union Building and watched as hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian patriots stood in the freezing cold and demanded freedom, rule of law and a European future. We’re honored to be here to congratulate you on all that you have accomplished, and all of us join the Ukrainian people in mourning more than 100 brave souls who gave their lives for Ukraine’s future.
We’ve met with the President and Prime Minister, government leaders including the Governor of Donetsk, with leaders from across the political spectrum including the Party of Regions and with representatives from Ukraine’s business community, civil society, and the Euromaidan Movement.
We’re here to express the strong bipartisan support for Ukraine that exists in the U.S. Congress and among the American people. We are united in our full support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, national unity, and territorial integrity and against Russia’s baseless violation of these principles and its efforts to divide this country.
We are also deeply concerned about reports today of Russian military movement into areas around Eastern Ukraine. These movements are deeply disturbing.
The Ukrainian government is legitimate, constitutional, and has an important popular mandate for change. Change won’t be easy, but it’s essential now for the government here to reach out to all Ukrainians and take steps to unify the country. Among these are strengthening democracy, the rule of law, reform the economy and the military and move Ukraine toward Europe. We are confident that the government is committed to these principles.
The government must also prepare the country for elections on May 25th. During our visit we’ve heard overwhelming support for proceeding with elections on schedule and we believe it’s critical.
Ukraine’s journey will be difficult but Ukrainians will not make that journey alone. The United States and your other partners will be with you. Many of us here serve on our Foreign Relations Committed in the Senate and last week we passed bipartisan legislation to support Ukraine and impose costs on Russia. This legislation provides $1 billion in loan guarantees to support Ukraine’s economy. It provides assistance to help Ukraine strengthen democracy, prepare for elections and enhance security cooperation. It imposes sanctions, severe sanctions, on those responsible for violence and human rights abuses against peaceful Ukrainians, and those who threat Ukrainian stability, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and on Russian officials responsible for corruption here.
We want to assure you the United States Senate will pass this legislation imminently, and we’re confident it can soon become law.
Finally, let me say a word about military assistance, and this is my personal view. Ukraine is going to need a long term military assistance program from the United States. Equipment both lethal and non-lethal. Ukraine has been invaded. Russia is massing forces on the border provoking unrest, threatening to annex part of this sovereign nation, and possibly worse. When free people and patriots, victims of aggression wish to defend themselves and their homes from further aggression and when they ask for some modest means that can help them resist, I believe we should provide it. Not to offer false hope or to harbor it ourselves, but simply it’s the right and decent thing to do.
I also want to add there are now thousands of brave Ukrainian members of the military who are surrounded in bases in Crimea. We are deeply concerned about after this phony referendum that’s going to take place, that the lives and welfare of these individuals could be in danger. We urgently urge the Russians to be restrained and to respect the lives and welfare of these brave Ukrainian service men and women who are serving their country.
Senator Durbin: I want to thank my colleague John McCain and others who have joined me. This is an extraordinary visit that we’ve made to Ukraine. It is maybe the largest Senate delegation to visit Ukraine in history. And the moment we came we thought was the right moment. We wanted to say to the people of Ukraine and millions who support Ukraine across the world that we stand shoulder to shoulder with the Ukrainian people who are seeking a new future and a new opportunity. We know that they have a new government with many many challenges, including economic challenges. We know that they are committed to the rule of law, to open and free elections. We stand by them in this commitment.
We have met with the President, the Prime Minister, and leaders of this government. The message we have given them is that we will be by your side on a bipartisan basis in the United States Senate. The visit of Secretary of State John Kerry, the meeting between the Prime Minister and the President just a few days ago are further indications of this strengthening alliance between the United States and Ukraine. But we also come at this moment because we know we are only hours away from this Soviet-style election in Crimea. We know the outcome. We always knew the outcome of those elections long before they took place.
Keep in mind that there was also a vote today, just hours ago, in the UN Security Council where the nations of the world serving on that Security Council were asked to stand with Ukraine and to reject this referendum. Of course the Russians voted no; the Chinese abstained; all other nations stood with Ukraine and the United States. It is an indication of growing world support for the future of Ukraine and resistance to what the Russians are threatening now in Crimea. We owe it to the people of Ukraine and to those in Crimea to speak up for them at this moment and to tell Russia we will not return to a history of invasion and aggression which was too common in this part of the world.
We also need to make it clear that when countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia and Ukraine enter into an agreement -- the Budapest Memorandum -- that it means something. When a country will step away from its nuclear arsenal, only asking for protection of its territory and its future, we need to stand by them. That’s why we’re here as well. We want a more peaceful world and we believe that standing with Ukraine is the way to achieve that.
I’m proud of my colleagues who are with me. I hope you understand the significance of our visit to the Ukraine at this moment in history.
Senator Murphy: Good afternoon. My name is Chris Murphy, Senator from Connecticut and the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe. Senator McCain and I had the opportunity in December to stand on the Maidan looking out over almost a million protestors who were assembled peacefully. Many for different reasons, but all united by the same simple premise, that they wanted to bring dignity back to their country and to their existence. Many of them were there because they wanted an orientation with Europe. Others were there because they wanted new leaders in government. But they all held in common the basic simple belief that it should be the people of this country, no outside entity, that dictates the future of this great nation.
It is difficult in Washington these days to get a group of Senators as politically diverse as those who are standing here today to agree on much of anything, but we are standing here united -- Republicans and Democrats -- as we did in the Foreign Relations Committee last week, making it clear that the United States is going to stand with a free and sovereign Ukraine. That we are going to stand with this new government to help them do what it takes in order to prosper. We passed, as Senator McCain said, a strong bill through the Foreign Relations Committee. Republicans and Democrats supported it. It will offer economic aid to keep Ukraine’s economy on its feet and deliver a strong message to Russia that there will be consequences for the actions that have already been taken. We’re confident, as well, that we’re going to be able to join with our European allies in delivering an economic blow to Russia that will make it clear that there is a price to be paid for this type of aggression.
The next several days will be critical as we look at the broad scope of the history of this nation. We know that there are several thousand Ukrainian troops whose lives are in jeopardy, but we’re here today to tell the Russian forces that are surrounding them that we hold them directly responsible for the safety of those brave young men and women who are now cornered in different parts of Crimea.
The world is watching. The message that we bring today both to Ukraine and to Russia is that the United States Senate is watching as well.
Senator Johnson: My name is Ron Johnson. I’m a Senator from the State of Wisconsin.
First of all I want to thank Senator McCain for leading this delegation. I want to thank my colleagues for standing together. The main reason we’re here is to show that strong unified support for the courageous people of Ukraine.
Unfortunately, I was not here with Senator McCain and Senator Murphy when they stood with the Ukrainians on the Maidan. But we did walk down to the Maidan. It was a moving experience, incredibly moving experience to understand what happened. I’ll tell you what, from my standpoint there is one person I hold accountable for this aggression and it’s Vladimir Putin. If there’s further bloodshed, there’s also one person I will hold responsible. There’s one person that can stop it, that can prevent it. That’s Vladimir Putin.
Senator McCain mentioned, and Senator Murphy also mentioned that the brave members of the Ukrainian military now garrisoned in Crimea and those stationed along the border. I’ve seen moving pictures of journalists that have real courage throughout this process. I want to thank all of you and I want to ask you to maintain that courage. Bring the pictures to the world of what is happening here about this aggression. It’s probably the single most important thing that can be done to prevent further bloodshed.
Again, I want to thank our hosts. I want to thank my colleagues here for showing the strong level of support. And I want to thank you for bringing the pictures to the world so that we can prevent further bloodshed. Thank you.
Senator Whitehouse: I’m Senator Whitehouse from Rhode Island. I thank Senator McCain and Senator Durbin for leading this delegation. We have all been moved and inspired by our visit to Ukraine and by Ukraine’s commitment to freedom exemplified by the blood-stained Maidan. We hope our country can be helpful as Ukraine rids itself of the shackles of corruption that have burdened its people and enters a new day.
Ukraine’s new day is shadowed by menace, however. Russia’s conduct is already outside the conduct of a civilized nation and Russia has failed to provide the world adequate assurances that its conduct will not get even worse.
We intend to take a unified message back to our President that he should support Ukraine with the strongest action he feels he can to deter further aggression by Russia to protect Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity, including imposing painful and damaging sanctions on Russia and its industries and oligarchs.
Russia cannot expect to live in a halfway world in which it enjoys the benefits of a community of civilized nations without conducting itself like one. And in the days ahead let us all remember the Ukrainian Marines of Feodosia and other Ukrainian forces garrisoned in the Crimea. Thank you very much.
Senator Barrasso: My name is John Barrasso. I’m a United States Senator from the State of Wyoming.
A number of us on Wednesday had a chance to meet with your Prime Minister, a man of great courage and determination, and do so in Washington, D.C. to see how the people of the United States could be helpful to the people of the Ukraine. We told him that we didn’t think meeting with him about Ukraine was enough just there, we wanted to come here to show our commitment to the people of Ukraine. That’s why we’re here in a unified way, bipartisan -- Republicans and Democrats from all different spectrums of politics in the United States.
We walked the Maidan. We saw the bullet holes in the trees and in the buildings. We saw the faces in the pictures of over 100 martyrs, those who gave their lives, and those faces are burned into our brains and they will never be forgotten.
We had a chance to meet and listen to members of the leadership of various parties in the government. We’ve had a chance to visit with people from different parts of the country. And what we heard from them and what we told them as well is a unified message of this will not stand. We cannot allow Vladimir Putin to do what he appears to be doing.
We have great concerns for those who are surrounded right now in military barracks in the Crimea and we will hold Vladimir Putin personally responsible for anything, the damage that may occur to them. Brave men and women risking their lives for freedom. Thank you.
Senator Hoeven: I’m John Hoeven from the State of North Dakota. I’m serving in the Senate now. Before that, though I was Governor of my state for ten years. We set up a trade office, and during that ten year time line I organized several trade delegations to come to the Ukraine.
Last night I had dinner with leaders from ten different companies representing many other companies and many associations across the Ukraine. That’s from just one state in our country. Just one state.
I make that point because we have so many relationships between the United States and the Ukraine. We have much in common. We’re here to show our solidarity. And as a way of showing that we truly are united as Senators, representatives of our Congress and representatives of our country, I want to just read a short note that I took a few minutes ago when we were meeting with the Ukrainian Prime Minister. The reason I want to go through this for just a minute is because it was said by Senator Dick Durbin, who is a Democrat, and I’m a Republican. I want to show that this support is truly bipartisan because I couldn’t have agreed more with the points that he was making to reassure your Prime Minister that we stand with you.
He said we need to take economic, diplomatic and political sanctions against Russia. We need to use the Magnitsky Act to take strong action and use the legislation that’s been passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and have it passed by the full Senate as soon as we get back. We need to undertake economic assistance to the Ukraine, and we need to work with the IMF to make sure that we provide that economic assistance as well as loans not only from our country but also from the European Union. We need to work with the European Union so that when we say we stand with Ukraine we mean not only the United States but all of the European Union and the world as well.
Senator Flake: My name is Senator Jeff Flake from the State of Arizona. My colleagues mentioned walking down the Maidan and to see the determination that is still evidence and will be needed in the coming weeks and months.
Just a word to Russia. This is not your grandfather’s war. People are watching today like they never have watched before. There is no drama in tomorrow’s referendum. But what is left unsaid and what is still left unknown is how Russia will treat soldiers garrisoned in Crimea and what they do thereafter or don’t do in Eastern Ukraine. People are watching like never before. People can organize like never before.
And so we hope to have an outcome that is befitting and honors those that have fallen here. I’m pleased to be here with my colleagues today.
Senator McCain: Questions?
Press: Thank you, Mr. Senator. My name is ____.
As time is running out for the referendum, we have heard about the opinion from the Congress of the United States that it is better for Ukraine to give up Crimea and concentrate on eastern part of the country. Do you agree with that? And why?
Senator McCain: We do not agree at all. We do not agree that Vladimir Putin has license to invade a sovereign nation. As was mentioned by Senator Durbin, an agreement in 1994 that was made when Ukraine gave up its nuclear inventory in return for guarantees of its territorial integrity. So we do not. The last thing we want to do is send any message to people in Crimea that we have abandoned them.
Press: ____, CNBC.
So you [wrote] today, three U.S. Presidents have sought to cooperate with President Putin where interests converge. Those interests do not converge much. He will always insist on being our rival. How far away is that rivalry between the U.S. and the West and Russia from becoming a new Cold War?
Senator McCain: First of all, I don’t believe there will be a reignition of the Cold War, but I do believe it’s long overdue that we understand Vladimir Putin for who he is and what he is and what his ambitions are.
This is the person that stated that the greatest catastrophe of the 20th Century was the breakup of the Soviet Union. This is the person who wants to restore the [inaudible]. This is the person that occupies parts of the sovereign nation of Georgia, that occupies Transnistria and Moldova, that is now active in an act of naked aggression. Again, all of us are concerned about recent reports of additional military buildup in this area.
So we have to treat him for what he is. That does not reignite the Cold War. But it means we enact steps that make it clear to Vladimir Putin that his ambitions will not be realized by the great community of nations that would resist.
Let me just give you a couple of them real quick. One, start the missile defense system again in Poland and the Czech Republic that we abandoned once. Look forward to perhaps Moldova and Georgia and Ukraine, if they wish, to become partners in NATO. Have some military exercises with our Baltic friends -- Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania -- that are under severe pressures from Vladimir Putin and Russia as we speak.
The United States of America with our allies are the strongest force in the world. We can act to counter Vladimir Putin’s ambitions without reigniting a Cold War and without conflict.
Margaret Thatcher’s famous words about Ronald Reagan was that he won the Cold War without firing a shot. And that can be accomplished.
Press: ____, CCTV News.
Senator McCain, Senator Durbin mentioned that China today abstained from the vote. Do you think that there is a greater role that China could play in helping to diffuse this crisis?
Senator McCain: I’ll let Senator Durbin answer.
Senator Durbin: I spoke today to Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. She was trying to bring in China to vote with us. The abstention is something, but we wish that they had been with us on this one. But we’re going to continue to work with them. We need to really increase that family of nations across the world that are willing to stand up to aggression and I hope that they’ll be part of the picture.
Press: [Through Interpreter]. Mr. Senator, there is lots of information out there regarding the U.S. position on this presence, particularly President Obama. If the aggression forces crossed the border from Crimea into Ukraine that this would mean a state of war exists and the United States could potentially take part. Is that a possibility?
Senator McCain: Senator Durbin and I just got off the phone with Secretary Kerry. I can assure that the Congress and the President will be working with the President of the United States. This is too serious for any partisanship. I can’t exactly say what the reaction would be because it would have to be a standard size and other aspects of it. But I am confident that the United States of America with our European allies would have a very vigorous response.
Senator Durbin: I would just say that when we met with the Prime Minister in Washington last week and again today, he made it clear that he is not anticipating the so-called military option of boots on the ground. That is not being discussed. We’re talking about other ways that we can help Ukraine, other ways that we can put pressure on Russia and other aggressors.
Senator ____: I would just add that the line has already been crossed. There is no moving from Crimea into Ukraine. Crimea is part of Ukraine. And so our message to Russia and to Vladimir Putin is that he needs to take immediate steps to deescalate the situation in Crimea and if he does not, regardless of whether there is any additional incursion, there is going to be an escalating series of steps from both the United States and Europe to make it clear that the actions that have been undertaken already are completely unacceptable within the scope of the world community. And China should be involved in this issue. Every other nation should care about this because this essentially reorders the rules of the game when nations are allowed to unilaterally change borders. That’s why this moment in our world’s history is so important.
Senator ____: I don’t think we should prescribe all the things we will or won’t do right here, right now. It’s incumbent on Russia and President Putin to step back and diffuse the situation. And we’ll have to respond as that situation develops.
The important point here is that we’re together and we’re solid with Ukraine.
Senator McCain: If I can just point out, we have proven that economic sanctions can be a very powerful weapon. We’ve seen the effect that it had on the Iranians. Most of us, all of us agree that it brought them to the bargaining table.
A severe regimen of economic sanctions on individuals, corporations and even governments I think can have a significant beneficial impact.
Senator ____: I can volunteer one other thing that can help. We are producing a lot of energy in our country. My state’s a great example. We’re producing more natural gas every day, we’re flaring it off. We need markets. What better way than to start bringing some of that LNG, liquefied natural gas, over here and putting some real pressure in an economic sense on Russia and helping Ukraine and the EU which right now depend on Russia for so much of their energy? There are many things we can do. That’s just one example. And that’s a solution that helps on a long term basis.
Press: Vladimir Razinsky from Al-Jazeera America.
This morning there was a report of the incursion by Russian forces into Ukrainian territory proper that was repelled. Your ideas and suggestions are very long term including economic and military. There seems to be a, where the Russians are actually moving today on the ground. Do you have any reaction or response to the immediate incursions by the Russians rather than the long term economic and military aid?
Senator McCain: Again, it’s hard for any of us to respond to hypotheticals, but as I mentioned, we are deeply concerned about reports of Russian military units moving closer and in a more tactical way around eastern Ukraine. I can’t say exactly what our response will be, but I think it will be a breach of such enormous consequence that the United States of America and our European allies will be contemplating action that we have not ever in our relation with Russia, to be honest with you.
Senator Johnson: We talked about unity. Let me describe a little bit. We’re united -- Democrat, Republican. We’re united from the Senate to the House. We’re united from Congress to the President. We’re united from America to the European Union.
The other thing we learned -- The reason we came here was to show that unity, to show that support for the courage of the Ukrainian people. One thing we learned, and one message that was given to us loud and clear is Ukrainians will defend themselves. They will defend themselves. Even though the odds are against them, they will defend themselves, which is again why I will point out there is one person that can prevent further bloodshed. That person is Vladimir Putin. We will hold him accountable.
Senator McCain: Thank you very much.