A bipartisan group of seven US senators met President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other top officials in Kiev on Monday as Ukraine and the West prepare for the possibility of an imminent Russian invasion.
Why it matters: The delegation is seeking a united front with Ukraine after a split Senate vote on Thursday that saw Democrats block sanctions Zelenskyy’s government sued against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany.
What you say: “There is and will be bipartisan support” for greater sanctions against Russia in the event of a conventional military invasion, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who led the prosecution on Nord Stream 2 sanctions, told reporters at a briefing Kiev .
- Other members of the delegation were Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kevin Cramer (RN.D.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) And Roger Wicker (R-Miss) ).
Something to see: Senators are pushing to move forward new sanctions legislation designed to deter Russia this week, though Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over how and when those costs should be imposed.
Driving the news: The Biden administration on Friday accused Russia of planning a possible “false flag” operation in eastern Ukraine that would be used as a pretext for an invasion.
- Russia has denied claims that it has plans to invade Ukraine and has said it is waiting for the US and NATO to send written answers to its security demands before deciding on the way forward.
- In a possible sign of what’s coming next, Russia began evicting its embassy in Kiev in early January, according to the New York Times reported late Monday.
The scenery: The Ukrainian government had asked senators to vote for Nord Stream 2 sanctions last week, calling the Putin-backed pipeline “no less an existential threat to our security” than the tens of thousands of Russian troops massing at its border.
- But the Biden administration lobbied Democrats to oppose the law to protect their relationship with Germany as the transatlantic alliance holds security talks with Russia.
- “The fear is that from the outside, Congress looks hopelessly divided,” Murphy said. Among other things, the senators came “to ensure that the vote on a very narrow sanction last week did not create the wrong impression”.
Between the lines: The senators’ trip was partially overshadowed by the return to Kiev of former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who is charged with high treason, which he says is politically motivated.
- Ukraine has long struggled to implement the anti-corruption and political reforms demanded by the West, and experts warn that Zelenskyi’s feud with his predecessor could split the country at a critical moment.
- Murphy said he had raised concerns with Zelenskyy “whether this is the right time” for Ukraine to engage in a “controversial legal case.” He declined when pressed by Axios to share more details.
The bottom line: “If Putin thinks that he will go to central or western Ukraine without a significant fight, then he has fundamentally misjudged the Ukrainian people and their willingness,” Murphy told reporters. “I think I knew I came here… but I was vindicated in that belief after spending the day here.”