On January 15, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the crisis in Ukraine which included testimony by Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland and Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Melia of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, as well as former U.S. national security advisor and recognized expert on this region Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Secretary Nuland, who personally met with President Viktor Yanukovych, as well as with the protesters on the maidan, when she visited Kyiv in December 2013, said, “Like the vast majority of Ukrainians, the United States and our partners in the European Union want to see the current stand-off resolved politically, democratically and above all, peacefully,” adding that the last point applies to both the government and protesters alike. “However, the use of violence and acts of repression carried out by government security forces and their surrogates have compelled us to make clear publicly and privately to the government of Ukraine that we will consider a broad range of tools at our disposal if those in positions of authority in Ukraine employ or encourage violence against their own citizens,” she added.
Assistant Secretary Nuland expressed the Obama administration’s gratitude for the Senate’s leadership role on Ukrainian issues and for passing on January 7 Senate Resolution 319, which “sent a strong, bipartisan message of concern and support to the Ukrainian people at a key moment,” she said. She also thanked and commended two senators participating in the hearing – Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Murphy – “for bringing that bipartisan support directly to the people of Ukraine on a key weekend in December, and engaging with President Yanukovych, his government, the opposition, the business community and civil society in support of a peaceful, democratic way out of the crisis.” She underscored, “The people of Ukraine saw America stand up with them at a critical moment when they could have felt very alone.”
Dr. Brzezinski pointed out that Russia’s Vladimir Putin sees Ukraine as a “strategic state,” without which building a Russian “supranational empire” is impossible. But that is not the way the young generation of Ukrainians who grew up in an independent Ukraine view their country. “They feel themselves to be Ukrainians,” Dr. Brzezinski explained, adding that Mr. Putin displays his historical ignorance when he perceives Ukraine and Russia as one nation.
Sen. McCain said Ukraine is a country that wants to be European. “They don’t want to be Russian – this is what it’s all about.” The Russians have bullied them and continue to do so, using Ukraine’s need to import Russian energy resources, banning the import of Ukrainian chocolates to Russia and taking advantage of corruption – “which is rampant in Ukraine” – to its advantage. “This is about whether we will stand up for the Ukrainian people,” Sen. McCain said. “We want to be assisting morally the Ukrainian people for seeking what we want everybody on this earth to have.”
The ranking member of the committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), repeatedly criticized President Obama’s administration for not pursuing an active policy with respect to Ukraine. “In my view, what has transpired in Ukraine is one of the most recent examples of where U.S. leadership at the right moment could have been decisive,” he said. “Apparently overly concerned with offending Russia, the administration seems to have somehow made the calculation initially that a passive response might yield more than assertive U.S. leadership.”
The hearing was conducted by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who said “this committee isn’t deaf to those brave people whose capacity for hope and appetite for freedom has compelled them to take to the streets. The world is, indeed, watching.”
On the day after the Verkhovna Rada passed a controversial law aimed at curtailing protest demonstrations in Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry voiced his position on it to the press in his remarks prior to a January 17 meeting with Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Evangelos Venizelos at the State Department. “The legislation that was rammed through the Rada without transparency and accountability violates all the norms of the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] and the EU [European Union],” with whom the Ukrainian people want be associated with in the future, he said. “So we will continue to stay focused on this issue, but this kind of anti-democratic maneuver is extremely disturbing and should be a concern to every nation that wants to see the people of Ukraine be able to not only express their wish but see it executed through the political process.”
Two days later, the White House went a step further in expressing its concern, and mentioned the possibility of U.S. sanctions if things do not improve. In a statement released by the White House Press Office, National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said: “We are deeply concerned by the violence taking place today on the streets of Kyiv and urge all sides to immediately de-escalate the situation.” She said that the increasing tension in Ukraine is a direct consequence of the government failing to acknowledge the legitimate grievances of its people. “Instead, it has moved to weaken the foundations of Ukraine’s democracy by criminalizing peaceful protest and stripping civil society and political opponents of key democratic protections under the law.” From its first days, the Euro-Maidan movement “has been defined by a spirit of non-violence, and we support today’s call by opposition political leaders to re-establish that principle,” Ms. Hayden said.