In Kiev, NH Sen. Ayotte backs sanctions against Russia
As the U.S. Senate takes up a bill today allowing stepped-up sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea, Russian Federation troops have massed near the country's border with eastern Ukraine.
In a telephone interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader from Kiev on Sunday, N.H. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who supports the sanctions bill, called for broader and deeper measures. But the Republican said economic penalties are not a step toward American involvement in the crisis in Ukraine.
"I don't support American troops on the ground; the Ukraine has not asked for American boots on the ground, that is not in discussion right now," said Ayotte, who along with other members of a congressional delegation met with Ukraine's interim prime minister and other leaders.
"What they want is to defend themselves," Ayotte said. "What we've heard time and time again is that if Russia crosses the line into eastern Ukraine, they will not go quietly."
On Sunday, Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, said the 28-nation alliance should rethink the positioning and readiness of its forces in eastern Europe.
"The (Russian) force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready," he said.
Breedlove said he is concerned that Moscow may have a region in another former Soviet republic, Moldova, in its sights after annexing Crimea.
Russia claims it is complying with international agreements and has no plans to invade. It has called the soldiers who took over Ukrainian bases in Crimea "self-defense forces."
The legislation now before Congress includes $1 billion in loan guarantees for the Ukraine in addition to the sanctions on Russia.
The United States would also help Ukraine with communications and other military equipment, including small arms.
"We need to take steps to issue broader sanctions on the entire Russian financial and banking sectors in terms of the business they do with the United States," Ayotte said. "Everyone we met expressed gratitude to the United States for standing in solidarity with the Ukraine."
During her visit to Kiev, Ayotte and other members of the U.S. delegation toured the streets where more than 100 Ukranians were killed during protests against the country's former president, who fled to Russia when his regime was toppled.
"A U.S. Marine brought us through what happened that day," she said of the response to anti-Russian protests in Kiev's main square. "They put snipers on the roof and killed more than 100 people."
She said the United States should have seen Putin's latest moves coming.
After the conclusion of the Winter Olympics in Moscow, Ayotte urged the Obama administration to beware of Putin's next move, since Russia was no longer polishing its image while in the world's spotlight.
"Hindsight is always 20/20, but we certainly should have identified this as a possibility and something that we should be prepared for," Ayotte said. "It seems this is something we should have seen coming."
She said the elections scheduled for May in Ukraine will send another message to Putin, who she referred to as a "bully" in an interview with CBS "Face the Nation" on Sunday.
"One of the other grave threats to Putin will be when he sees people who want to have a say in their future in free and fair elections and want to turn more toward Europe," she said.
Ukranian interim Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatseniuk is not a candidate in the upcoming election, but Ayotte said his leadership is part of the message being sent to Putin.
"The prime minister signed a political agreement with the European Union in Brussels reiterating their view and desire to align with Europe for further economic relationship," she said.