KYIV — Warnings from various quarters, including Ukraine’s interim government, NATO’s top military commander and the chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, that Russian forces are poised to go beyond Crimea, are prompting calls for a more robust response from Washington and other Western capitals.
Members of a bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation visiting Kyiv say they have been told by all the Ukrainians they met Sunday that they will not yield “another inch” of territory to Russia and that the Ukrainians are ready to fight.
The two senators and one representative told reporters late Sunday they are optimistic that tougher sanctions, other punitive legislation under consideration by their colleagues and a united front by Western European countries can deter Russia from further provocations.
Congressman Stephen Lynch is a Democrat and a member of the National Security Subcommittee.
“They’ve won the battle of Crimea for now. And they may be anticipating going into eastern Ukraine tomorrow. But this won’t be a short battle. This will be something long-term, and we’re sure that our neighbors in NATO and democratic-loving nations will stand together in the long run,” said Lynch.
All major Ukrainian military bases on the Crimean peninsula, annexed last week by Moscow, are now under the control of Russian forces.
Other Russian troops are conducting drills at Ukraine's eastern gate. And Crimea’s self-declared premier has issued a call for Russians across the ex-Soviet republic to rise up against Kyiv's rule, which Moscow regards as illegitimate.
Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican and member of the Armed Services Committee, said that the United States already has done some muscle flexing and that NATO would do more should there be an invasion of the Ukrainian mainland.
“We have already had the USS Truxton doing exercises. We have already moved F-16s to have exercises in the area. We have the ability, with NATO forces certainly, to move force posture in the area. We’re not looking for a conflict, a military conflict, obviously with Russia,” said Ayotte.
But if there is war between Russia and Ukraine, says U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, the responsibility will squarely fall on the shoulders of President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
“This will not be [like] Crimea. There will be horrific loss of life. There will be young Russian men who will be killed in this effort, and [Putin] will have to look their moms and dads in the eyes and explain to them why their son was lost, or their daughter was lost, in the invasion of another country,” said Donnelly.
The tension between the neighboring countries, with some shared history and heritage, is splitting friends and family.
Legal secretary Zhenia Kuzmenko is the daughter of a Russian father and a Ukrainian mother.
“I’m very concerned because my parents live like 70 kilometers from the Russian border. And I’m not happy to wake up one day in a different country with them. And we want to be independent. We’re not happy to be with Russia.“
Russian defense officials are quoted by state-run media as saying Moscow is complying with international agreements limiting the number of its troops near the border with Ukraine.
But Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said after visiting Ukraine he fears Russia may have opened "Pandora's box,’’ attempting to redraw national borders in Europe.