By Alexander Bolton - 12/15/13 12:43 PM EST
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) addressed protesters gathered in Kiev’s central square Sunday and urged them to keep pushing for closer ties between Ukraine and the West.
An estimated 200,000 people have braved icy weather for days to gather in Kiev’s central square to protest Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign a trade pact with the European Union.
McCain said in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” that Putin is attempting to restore Russia’s hegemony over former Soviet republics.
“There’s no doubt that Ukraine is of vital importance to Vladimir Putin,” he said. “He has put pressure on Ukrainians.”
McCain said Putin has threatened to raise the price of energy. Earlier this month, Russian officials signaled they would be willing to reduce natural gas prices if Ukraine extended favorable terms for the Russian naval fleet based in Sevastopol.
“I've watched him become more and more assertive in his desire as an old KGB apparatchik to restore the near-abroad,” McCain said of Putin on CNN. “He's put pressure on Moldova, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, all of the so-called near-abroad. And of course, Ukraine is the crown jewel.”
McCain emphasized that he is trying to bring about a peaceful transition in Ukraine and argued that the United States has long supported pro-democracy movements.
“I don’t think that we would be taking on Russia,” McCain replied when CNN anchor Candy Crowley asked whether U.S. support for the pro-Western protesters in Kiev could imperil Russia’s cooperation on other international issues, such as removing chemical weapons stockpiles from Syria.
Speaking on CBS, McCain argued, “We have a long tradition of standing up for people that are freely and peacefully demonstrating and they have been peaceful.”