Washington – Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy last weekend jumped into the middle of an escalating conflict in Ukraine over the nation’s rebuff of the European Union in favor of Russia.
Murphy’s mission: To persuade Ukrainian officials to change their minds.
“It was absolutely magical to be there. We were witnessing history,” Murphy said.
Mass protests in the capitol city of Kiev were touched off last month when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych spurned a trade agreement with the EU, preferring instead closer economic ties to Moscow. Russian police cracked down on the protestors last week, provoking international condemnation and support for the anti-government forces.
On Sunday, Murphy, a Democrat, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., addressed the crowd.
“We were there with the people of Ukraine to tell them both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are with them,” Murphy said.
Demonstrators say an EU agreement would open borders to trade and help modernize Ukraine.
But the nation is split between pro-European regions in the west and a more Russia-oriented east.
Although anti-government protesters who have flooded into Kiev’s Independence Square, or Maidan, are far more numerous, pro-government protests are becoming more common and stronger.
Nevertheless, Murphy said the hearts of the people are with the West. He and McCain talked with Yanukovych and other Ukrainian officials Sunday trying to persuade them to sign the EU agreement.
Murphy said Yanukovych conceded Ukraine’s future lies with the EU.
“We just have to continue to prod him,” Murphy said.
The Connecticut senator said the United States has several reasons to get involved in the situation in Ukraine.
“The U.S. always stands on the side of human rights,” he said.
The other reason, Murphy said, is that “there are U.S. interests in the Ukraine.”
Murphy and McCain also met with industrialists in Ukraine who want an EU trade deal.
After the police crackdown in Independence Square last week, Murphy introduced a resolution with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., aimed at pressuring the Ukrainian government to sign the EU trade agreement and condemning violence and intimidation against protesters.
Murphy’s resolution also says that in the case of further crackdowns on protesters, the Obama administration and Congress “should consider whether to apply targeted sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes, against individuals responsible for ordering or carrying out the violence.”
But Murphy’s provision is only a “sense of the Senate” resolution and cannot become law.
Like McCain, Murphy is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As a member of that committee, Murphy traveled to Brussels last month to meet with European Union officials.