The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 15, 2014

American senators meet with Ukrainian leaders in Kiev to discuss aid

By Lisa Mascaro
Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON, D.C. — WASHINGTON - A delegation of eight U.S. senators met in Kiev, Ukraine, with recently installed interim Ukrainian government leaders on the eve of a controversial Russian-supported secession vote in the Crimea region and discussed providing assistance.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the assistant majority leader, said Saturday that the United States is expected to respond to the Ukrainians’ request for basic military items - including fuel, tires, food and sleeping bags - to support its troops. No decisions have been made about providing small arms to the Ukrainian military, he said.

“We’re very concerned about the future of Ukraine,“ Durbin said by phone from Kiev, where he and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., were leading the bipartisan group of senators on a hastily arranged trip. Durbin said Russian President Vladimir Putin “has basically invaded the Crimea.“

The senators visited on the eve of a Russian-orchestrated referendum to split Crimea from Ukraine, a vote that the U.S. and Western allies have said they would not recognize as legitimate.

They met with the Ukrainian president and prime minister, who did not ask for U.S. military troops, the senator said, but did press the lawmakers to send economic aid and put punitive sanctions on Russia.

Congress, however, has failed to overcome its own partisan obstacles to swiftly intervene in the crisis.

A House-passed package of up to $1 billion in loan guarantees has stalled in the Senate, where Democrats want to attach White House-backed provisions that would bolster the International Monetary Fund’s ability to lend money to Ukraine. The IMF changes face resistance from some Republicans. The Senate package, which also includes sanctions on Russia, was approved by a key committee last week.

McCain, a top defense hawk, has criticized his party for standing in the way of Ukrainian aid. But no votes are expected until Congress returns this month from its week-long recess.