Senators up pressure on Putin in Ukraine

A delegation of senators looked to up pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin Saturday, as tensions around Ukraine heightened.

The eight lawmakers blasted the Russian leader while traveling through Ukraine and called Sunday's secession referendum in Crimea rigged and illegitimate. Some of the senators asked for the U.S. to provide military equipment to Ukrainian troops, and the group vowed crippling economic sanctions against Russia until the nation pulled back.

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“This is the person that stated that the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century was the breakup of the Soviet Union,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) of Putin. “We have to treat him for what he is. That does not reignite the Cold War, but it means we enact steps that make it clear ... that his ambitions will not be realized by the great community of nations that would resist him.”

“There’s one person I hold accountable for this aggression. It’s Vladimir Putin,” added Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). “If there’s further bloodshed, there’s also one person I will hold accountable.”

The bipartisan group hoped their presence in Ukraine would underline the united support the U.S. is providing to the nation, ushering in a new government while Russian forces are amassing along its border.

“We are standing here united,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “There will be consequences for the actions that have already been taken ... there’s a price to be paid for this type of aggression.”

The other senators in the delegation were Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

While McCain and Durbin have backed sending weapons to Ukraine, no senator suggested that the U.S get directly involved in a military response.

The group dismissed the legitimacy of Sunday’s election on the future of Crimea, as McCain called it “phony” and Durbin described it as “Soviet-style.”

Their criticism came shortly after Russia vetoed a United Nations resolution condemning the referendum. China abstained from the vote, but all other voting nations backed it. 

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