Meeks leading bipartisan trip to Ukraine amid Russia tensions

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) is leading a bipartisan congressional delegation to Belgium and Ukraine today, according to a congressional source. 

The trip comes amid heightened fears that Russia is poised to launch an imminent offensive against Ukraine, with the Pentagon readying 8,500 troops for deployment, and the State Department scaling down its embassy staff in Kyiv and raising travel warnings for the country. 

In Brussels, the bipartisan delegation will meet with representatives from NATO and the European Union to discuss the security situation in Eastern Europe and the buildup of Russian troops along Ukraine’s border and in Belarus, according to a statement released from the chairman’s office on Tuesday.

In Kyiv, the delegation will meet with senior Ukrainian officials to discuss the security situation and reinforce U.S. support for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

The congressional delegation includes Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Ami Bera (D-Calif.), Colin Allred (D-Texas), Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Mark Green (R-Tenn.), August Pfluger (R-Texas), Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) and Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.).  

The visit by members of Congress marks a third trip by lawmakers, including a bipartisan Senate delegation that traveled to Kyiv early last week, and a bipartisan House delegation in December, led by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations.

A senior State Department official declined to comment on the trip when asked about it on Monday, citing security concerns barring discussing specifics of trips. Congress can request the assistance of the State Department to organize trips abroad as part of efforts to carry out oversight in foreign policy. 

“In general Europe is a hot spot, and a lot of NATO allies do host our congressional members and staff and I think that they will be seeing some come in fairly soon, maybe in a matter of days,” the official said on Monday.

Meeks on Monday tweeted support for the Biden administration’s strategy of pursuing diplomacy with Russia to urge Moscow to withdraw the more than 100,000 troops that the U.S. and its allies say are a threat to Ukraine’s security.

At the same time, the administration has increased the delivery of defensive military assistance to Kyiv, and are preparing troops to bolster allied militaries in countries part of NATO that are on the front lines of tensions between Russia and Ukraine. 

“I strongly support the diplomatic path set forth by the [the Biden administration] in the attempt to lower the temperature on the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russia maintaining the military threat aimed directly at Kyiv [and] our NATO Allies is not a peaceful negotiating tactic,” the chairman tweeted. 

“The additional troop deployments the President is considering would send a strong signal of support to our Allies and deterrence to Moscow. Such a deployment would, of course, be about deterrence, not war, which would require Congressional authorization.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday asked the administration to brief all members of Congress on the situation surrounding Ukraine.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kyiv on Jan. 19, as the bipartisan group of senators departed, and announced the delivery of $200 million in additional U.S. assistance for defensive materials for Ukraine. The secretary then traveled to Berlin to meet with European allies, and then met with Russia’s foreign minister in Geneva in an effort to de-escalate tensions along Ukraine’s border.  

The State Department official pointed to its coordination with the bipartisan Senate delegation that traveled to Ukraine last week, with Blinken briefing the participating senators before they departed for Kyiv.

“Last week there was a Senate CODEL [congressional delegation] to Ukraine, we were very excited about that, the secretary individually briefed those members before they left,” the official said.

“We’re hoping to see more of that, again because this is such a particularly sensitive time in that region, and we know that Congress is very interested, and quite frankly we’re relying on Congress to stay with us on the messaging and making sure that they have what they need in that regard.” 

The House congressional delegation comes amid the State Department taking increased security precautions in response to concerns that Russia could launch an invasion against Ukraine at any time. 

The State Department on Sunday authorized the departure of some U.S. government employees at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv and ordered the departure of all family members of employees at the embassy. 

The State Department has also expanded its travel advisory for Ukraine, which advises “do not travel,” to reflect the increased threat of Russian military action. The advisory for Ukraine was already at a level four because of COVID-19.

A senior State Department official told reporters in a briefing on Sunday that the authorized departures and increased travel warnings reflect earlier warnings by President Biden that military action by Russia could come at any time. 

“The United States Government will not be in a position to evacuate U.S. citizens in such a contingency, so U.S. citizens currently present in Ukraine should plan accordingly, including by availing themselves of commercial options should they choose to leave the country,” the official said.

“We continue to pursue the path of diplomacy. But if Russia chooses further escalation, then the security conditions, particularly along Ukraine’s borders in Russia-occupied Crimea and in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice.”

Updated at 10:56 a.m. 

Tags Ami Bera Antony Blinken colin allred David Cicilline Gregory Meeks Joe Biden Mark Green Mikie Sherrill Nancy Pelosi Ruben Gallego Tom Malinowski Ukraine-Russia conflict US-Ukraine relations

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