On January 23 and 27, Vice-President Joe Biden telephoned President Yanukovych to urge an immediate de-escalation in the standoff between protesters and security forces in downtown Kyiv. The vice-president urged Mr. Yanukovych to take steps to end violence and to meaningfully address the legitimate concerns of peaceful protesters, stressing the importance of the ongoing dialogue with the opposition and the need for genuine compromise as the only solution to the crisis. He also underscored that the U.S. condemns the use of violence by any side, warned that declaring a state of emergency or enacting other harsh security measures would further inflame the situation and called for a repeal of the anti-democratic laws passed on January 16. These would be the first of many telephone calls made by the vice-president to Ukrainian leaders during the course of the year. In fact, the vice-president became the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine.
In his State of the Union address on January 28, President Obama mentioned Ukraine in a single sentence. The comment came in this paragraph: “Our alliance with Europe remains the strongest the world has ever known. From Tunisia to Burma, we’re supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy. In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully and to have a say in their country’s future. …”
On January 31, one week after dozens of journalists were attacked by police in and around Kyiv’s Independence Square, RFE/RL President and CEO Kevin Klose and Broadcasting Board of Governors member Matthew Armstrong arrived to denounce the violence and to press Ukrainian authorities to honor their international obligations to respect media freedom and ensure basic rights and protections for journalists.
The two met with reporters at RFE/RL’s Kyiv bureau to laud their courage and commitment to reporting on the Euro-Maidan. On January 20, RFE/RL Ukrainian Service reporter Dmytro Barkar and cameraman Ihor Iskhakov had suffered head injuries from beatings by Berkut police fists and batons.
“A free society does not beat professional journalists while they are performing their duties,” commented Mr. Klose.
On February 1, Secretary of State Kerry told the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of global political leaders and defense officials, that the Ukrainian people were engaged in a fight for democracy. “While there are unsavory elements in the streets in any chaotic situation, the vast majority of Ukrainians want to live freely in a safe and a prosperous country, and they are fighting for the right to associate with partners who will help them realize their aspirations, and they have decided that that means their futures do not have to lie with one country alone and certainly not coerced,” Mr. Kerry said. Secretary Kerry added that the United States and the European Union stand with the people of Ukraine in their right to make their own decisions. Mr. Kerry met with Ukrainian opposition leaders on the sidelines of the conference – a development seen as a major boost to the protest movement. The opposition leaders included Vitali Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
A coalition of citizens and organizations united in their support of a democratic, economically viable and stable Ukraine was announced in Washington on February 3. Members of the Friends of Ukraine coalition said they believe that, as a strategically located country, Ukraine is important not only to its own people but to the whole region and to the national security of the United States. At the initiative of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Green Miller, an initial meeting of the Friends of Ukraine was held on January 23 to discuss how to best support the peaceful resolution of the current crisis in Ukraine and to help the people of Ukraine achieve their goals for a normally functioning democracy. Organized by Ihor Gawdiak of the Ukrainian American Coordinating Council, the group met in offices provided by the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation and consisted of former U.S. government officials, including former Ambassador Roman Popadiuk and former Rep. Charles Dougherty, as well as the heads or representatives of non-governmental organizations, think tanks and individuals involved in U.S.-Ukraine relations. Ambassadors Miller and Popadiuk agreed to serve as co-chairs of Friends of Ukraine.
Violence broke out between law enforcement authorities who attempted to liquidate the Maidan and the protesters on February 18 in Kyiv – resulting in three days of street battles and the deaths of at least 105 civilians during the period of February 18-20. President Obama condemned the violence and warned of “consequences” in a statement issued on February 19: “…we’re going to be watching closely and we expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint, to not resort to violence in dealing with peaceful protesters. We’ve also said we expect peaceful protesters to remain peaceful and we’ll be monitoring very closely the situation, recognizing that with our European partners and the international community there will be consequences if people step over the line. And that includes making sure the Ukrainian military does not step into what should be a set of issues that can be resolved by civilians.” The next day the White House Office of the Press Secretary issued another statement: “We are outraged by the images of Ukrainian security forces firing automatic weapons on their own people. We urge President Yanukovych to immediately withdraw his security forces from downtown Kyiv and to respect the right of peaceful protest, and we urge protesters to express themselves peacefully. …The use of force will not resolve the crisis – clear steps must be taken to stop the violence and initiate meaningful dialogue that reduces tension and addresses the grievances of the Ukrainian people.”
The House of Representatives on February 10 overwhelmingly passed a resolution that “supports the democratic and European aspirations of the people of Ukraine, and their right to choose their own future free of intimidation and fear.” House Resolution 447 – introduced by Rep. Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.) on December 16, 2013, and co-sponsored by 58 members of the House –was passed by a vote of 381-2. The resolution called “on the United States and the European Union to continue to work together to support a peaceful resolution to the crisis, and to continue to support the desire of millions of Ukrainian citizens for democracy, human rights, government accountability, and the rule of law, and closer relations with Europe” and supported “the measures taken by the Department of State to revoke the visas of several Ukrainians linked to the violence, and encourages the administration to consider additional targeted sanctions against those who authorize or engage in the use of force.”
In a February 28 letter to President Obama, Sens. Robert Menendez, Corker, McCain, Murphy, John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) – all members of the Foreign Relations Committee – expressed support for U.S. assistance in Ukraine and warned of Russian intervention that undermines Ukraine’s unity. “We write in support of the administration’s efforts to help Ukraine to consolidate democratically elected government, preserve its territorial integrity, and enjoy the freedom to exercise a sovereign decision to sign and implement an Association Agreement with the European Union,” said the senators in their letter. “We are prepared to work with your administration to reinforce your efforts by authorizing U.S. loan guarantees to Ukraine and increasing assistance to facilitate a peaceful transition of power. We also believe that the U.S. should make use of the tools at its disposal, including targeted sanctions and asset recovery targeting corruption, to dissuade individuals who would foment unrest to undermine Ukraine’s territorial integrity or employ coercive economic measures against the Ukrainian people and the new Ukrainian government.”
While President Obama continued to call for an end to violence in Ukraine via a statement issued on February 28 and in telephone conversations with fellow world leaders, during an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on March 3, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power delivered a powerful statement setting the record straight on Russia’s aggression and its “dangerous military intervention in Ukraine.” She stated: “It is a fact that Russian military forces have taken over Ukrainian border posts. It is a fact that Russia has taken over the ferry terminal in Kerch. It is a fact that Russian ships are moving in and around Sevastopol. It is a fact that Russian forces are blocking mobile telephone services in some areas. It is a fact that Russia has surrounded or taken over practically all Ukrainian military facilities in Crimea. It is a fact that today Russian jets entered Ukrainian airspace. It is also a fact that independent journalists continue to report that there is no evidence of violence against Russian or pro-Russian communities. Russian military action is not a human rights protection mission. It is a violation of international law and a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the independent nation of Ukraine, and a breach of Russia’s Helsinki Commitments and its U.N. obligations.”
Ambassador Power was a favorite of Ukrainians worldwide, as she continued throughout the year to eloquently and strongly make her case against Russian aggression.