A bipartisan group of US senators traveled to Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other officials in a trip to show solidarity amid fears of Russian aggression.
“We think this is a crucial time for us to come,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters between meetings. “To Russia: We stand with the Ukrainian people and with this government. In fact, Congress recently approved a $300 million increase in security funding for Ukraine in the National Defense Authorization Act.”
With tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s border, the Biden administration is threatening unprecedented sanctions and other harsh measures if Russia takes military action against Ukraine. The administration has also prepared a new military aid package for Ukraine, in addition to US military assistance already flowing to Kiev, current and former officials said.
The congressional delegation also included Democratic Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Republican Senators Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
“I think Vladimir Putin has made the biggest mistake of his career by underestimating how bravely the people of Ukraine will fight him if he invades,” Blumenthal, a member of the Armed Services Committee, told reporters later Monday after the meeting with Zelenskyy. “And we will impose crippling economic sanctions, but more importantly, we will give the people of Ukraine the weapons, lethal weapons, they need to defend their lives and livelihoods.”
Ukraine suffered a massive cyberattack last week that brought down more than 70 government websites. National security adviser Jake Sullivan told CBS News on Sunday that the United States is still working to determine who was behind the attack, but “this is part of the Russian playbook.”
“If it turns out that Russia is hitting Ukraine with cyberattacks, and if that continues over the next period, we will work with our allies on the appropriate response,” he said.
Cramer, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said Monday that President Joe Biden is “right not to wait for authorization from Congress” as he moves to “build a set of multilateral sanctions” and that additional action from Capitol Hill is possible. .
“I think we will be able to unite in Congress around the sanctions authority to make sure President Biden has everything he needs and is coordinated with our allies to bring the crushing set of sanctions before any invasion plans,” he said. Cramer.
Wicker, also a member of the Armed Service Committee, suggested using the Magnitsky Act to sanction “real individuals who are violating international law.”
“There is no question that the aggression has already begun,” Wicker said.
Speaking to reporters later Monday, Murphy said senators on the trip felt an urgency to show bipartisan unity in support of Ukraine after the Senate voted against imposing sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline last week.
“I think it adds to the deterrent effect for Putin to see Republicans and Democrats talking together in Kiev, instead of seeing Republicans and Democrats divided on the issue of sanctions, as we did last week,” he said. “So, you know, we’re trying to do our little bit of telegraphing to Putin and his government that last week’s vote is not a precursor to how we will act in the future to try to put together a set of deterrent measures.”