A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators recently travelled to Kyiv, where they met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other government officials. The group – U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee and co-chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, and Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who also sit on the same committee – urged Ukrainian officials to strengthen democratic institutions, clamp down on corruption and reduce the influence of oligarchs. The group also sought to assure Mr. Zelenskyy that Washington would continue to provide help countering Russian aggression.
In a joint statement, the three senators said that, “The purpose of this delegation’s mission is to show U.S. solidarity with Ukraine against Russian aggression and its right to sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as encourage progress on democratic reforms.”
Ms. Shaheen added that she was pleased to see first hand the work Ukrainians were doing to fight the graft that has been endemic in much of Ukrainian society.
“Ensuring Ukraine continues key reforms to strengthen its democracy is critical to our enduring partnership and to counter Russian aggression,” Ms. Shaheen said. “[I] appreciated meeting with government representatives and civil society members on their work to root out corruption and build a better tomorrow for Ukraine.”
The senators also noted their strong objection to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.
“Why we feel so strongly about Nord Stream 2 is because we don’t understand. You know, Europe joins us in sanctions against Russia but then allows it to build a pipeline. It’s a mixed message that we don’t understand,” Mr. Murphy said during a June 2 interview with RFE/RL in Kyiv.
Ms. Shaheen added that, “I intend to do everything I can to try and stop the pipeline.”
On the topic of Russian aggression against Ukraine, Mr. Portman said that, while the Russian troops which had massed along Ukraine’s eastern border were ordered back to their bases, many of those troops and nearly all of the military hardware have not moved.
“When [Russian military officials] said they would pull back to their bases, some reporters reported that, taking them at their word. But the intelligence does not confirm that and it indicates that only a small number have left – maybe 10 to 20 percent based on the data that we have – and that the equipment was largely left behind, meaning that they could very quickly come back and rejoin that equipment and provide this additional threat to the sovereignty of Ukraine.”
Moreover, Mr. Portman urged Russia to “give back Crimea,” adding that, “It was an illegal annexation.”
But most importantly for Ukraine, the senators said they would continue to support Ukraine’s efforts to join NATO, though they noted that Ukraine must continue to implement the reforms needed to show the alliance that the country will adhere to Western values.
“NATO is both a military alliance and an alliance of values,” Mr. Murphy said. “That’s why the reforms that are currently under way in Ukraine are absolutely critical.” We wholeheartedly agree. And, as Ukraine continues to implement these reforms, we look forward to the day when it finally gets its well-earned NATO Membership Action Plan.