Bipartisan U.S. Senate delegation meets with Ukraine leaders in Kyiv

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Jan. 17 (UPI) — A bipartisan group of seven U.S. senators met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv Monday in a show of support for the country against possible Russian military aggression.

The group discussed Ukraine’s security situation and steps to be taken to de-escalate tensions with Russia as Moscow has positioned tens of thousands of troops along the two nations’ common border, Zelensky’s office said in a statement.

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“It is very important for Ukraine, and for our people, that you are with us today,” the Ukrainian leader told the delegation. “This speaks to the solid bicameral, bipartisan support of our country [in the United States], as well as its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The U.S. group included Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

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The meeting came a day after Kyiv blamed Russia for a cyberattack targeting the computers of government agencies, accusing the Kremlin of waging “a hybrid war” amid heightened tensions between the two countries.

“We are very concerned about what we see, which is this massive Russian build-up along the borders and a sort of hybrid warfare where we see, as an example, the cyberattacks this week,” Portman told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Kyiv.

“The United States is responding by helping Ukraine even more. We were already providing Ukraine with assistance, around $450 million last year. We are increasing that amount and talking about additional sanctions,” he said.

“Vladimir Putin is inventing, out of thin air, threats to his country,” added Murphy, asserting it was Putin “who invaded” eastern Ukraine, the Crimean peninsula and the Republic of Georgia.

“Ukraine, the United States, NATO… we pose no threat to Russia, and Putin should know that,” he said, adding that if Moscow were willing to commit to Ukrainian sovereignty and remove its proxy forces in the eastern part of country, “then the United States wouldn’t have to spend the amount of money that we are.”

“In our meetings with President Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials, I heard directly about what the U.S. can do to support Ukraine against Russian aggression,” Klobuchar wrote on Twitter. “We are ready to act to ensure Ukraine can defend itself.”

During the meeting, the group expressed a unanimous position that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline “is a challenge to the energy security of Ukraine and Europe as a whole” while also agreeing on the need to prepare a “preventative package” of sanctions against Russia to counter any aggression, Ukrainian officials said.

Senate Democrats last week blocked a bill proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, seeking to sanction companies tied to the unfinished Nord Stream pipeline, which will carry gas directly from Russia to Germany, bypassing Ukraine as a transit nation.

Zelensky had called on the Senate to pass the bill, but some Democrats objected to what they saw as an attempt by Cruz to undermine President Joe Biden‘s diplomatic efforts in the region.