(NEW YORK) — A bipartisan group of seven U.S. senators arrived in Ukraine Monday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other officials in what they say is a show of commitment to the country as an “increasingly belligerent Russia” bears down on its border.
“Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) announced they are traveling to Ukraine this week to meet with President Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials to reaffirm the U.S.’ commitment to Ukraine, which continues to face an increasingly belligerent Russia,” said a statement released by the group Monday.
Shaheen said in a tweet the meeting was productive and made clear that “Putin will not be allowed to target our Eastern European partners and allies w/o consequences.”
ABC News Senior Foreign Correspondent Ian Pannell met up with Sens. Shaheen and Murphy in Kyiv to discuss the purpose of their trip.
“I think the United States is interested, as we’ve heard from the officials we’ve met with today, that deterrence is much preferable to conflict. And so we are going to continue to do everything we can diplomatically to try and keep Russia at the table with Ukraine to see if there isn’t some way to avoid a hot war here,” Shaheen told Pannell. “But again, it can’t come at the expense of the future of this country.”
Shaheen called the situation critical, saying a Russian incursion could come soon.
“We’re talking about weeks, maybe a month or two, but we’re not talking about six months, years. We’re talking about a short timeframe,” she said.
On Friday a U.S. official said an invasion could come between now and mid-February and accused Russia of preparing to set a false pretext to attack.
Later that day, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby also accused Russia of planning a “false-flag” operation to make an invasion of Ukraine appear defensive rather than offensive.
“We have information that they’ve pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct what we call a false-flag operation – an operation designed to look like an attack on them or their people, or Russian speaking people in Ukraine, as an excuse to go in,” Kirby said.
Murphy told Pannell he would not be surprised by such deception from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Anybody that’s been paying any bit of attention to Vladimir Putin over the course of his career should know that he’s an expert in false-flag operations and that he is willing to do anything and everything in order to avoid culpability for the actions that he undertakes,” Murphy said. “I think we all need to be on the lookout for what may be a Russian instigated attempt to try to start a hot war very soon.”
Murphy said he hopes to convey that despite division in Washington politics, Republicans and Democrats are united in support for “serious, unprecedented crushing sanctions on Russia” if it moves further into Ukraine.
“I think what we need to explain to Russia is that this is not going to be bloodless. This is not going to be without pain,” Murphy said. “The United States people are going to support a Ukrainian population that’s going to continue to fight back.”
He continued, “This is going to be a Ukrainian people every single day scrapping for their very survival, and that is going to be something that the American public will want us as members of the United States Senate to support.”
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