Senators warn Russia: 'We are watching'

Senators traveling to Ukraine to monitor presidential elections on Sunday said “we are watching” closely to see if Russia interferes in the process.

During a press conference in the country, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said it is too early to talk about the legitimacy of the election but said some steps have been taken to set up alternative polling places in regions in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia separatists have occupied government buildings. 

ADVERTISEMENT
"We are certainly aware that there are outside agitators that are affecting the safety in the eastern part of Ukraine. We are well aware of that,” he said. “They are doing everything they can to disrupt the election. That is not the will of the people of Ukraine.”

Cardin is in the country along with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and a number of House lawmakers to help monitor the elections. 

Hundreds of other monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are also in the country. 

"And we are particularly concerned about the impact from Russia and we will obviously be watching very closely what happens," Cardin said. 

Also on the trip are Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas). A number of other U.S. lawmakers will also be in the country, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Peter Roskam (R-Ill.).

During a press conference, Portman reiterated his call for the United States to supply Ukraine with small arms and anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons so the military can defend itself, noting his call is "way short of boots on the ground."

He said he hopes Ukrainians turn out in “big numbers.” 

The United States has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that it would impose further sanctions on the Russian economy if it interferes in the elections. 

Earlier this year, Russia annexed Crimea, formerly of Ukraine, after it voted to secede amid increased Russian troop presence there. For months, Russian troops have been camped on the Eastern border of Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists have taken over some government buildings in eastern Ukraine, which holds a large population of ethnic Russians. 

Cardin strongly disagreed when asked if the events resulted from incorrect U.S. policy towards Russia. He said Putin's actions go against nearly every international norm. 

"We are not even clear what his end game is all about, so no. Lets place the blame where it belongs, it belongs with Mr. Putin," Cardin said. 

Putin has vowed to respect the results of Ukrainian's elections. But on Saturday he complained that the West has ignored Russia's interest in the country.

"Where is the guarantee that, after the forceful change of power, Ukraine will not tomorrow end up in NATO?" Putin told The Associated Press. 

During their trip, the two senators traveled to Independence Square, where the initial protests started last year that led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych. 

Portman said "seeing all the charred earth still" was a "powerful experience."

"You can't help but be struck by the amount of pain inflicted upon Ukrainians earlier this year. and the courage and the will of the people of Ukraine," Cardin added.