Exclusive

12.13.13

Exclusive: McCain Flies to Ukraine as Protests Rage

As pro-euro protests continue to rock Kiev, the senator is flying there to show support—the highest-ranking American official yet do so.

Sen. John McCain will become the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Ukraine since government violence against street protestors engulfed its capital last week. He will express support and solidarity with the protests.

“Senator McCain is traveling to Ukraine to meet with government officials, opposition leaders and civil society at this critical time as Ukrainians work to determine their future,” McCain spokesman Brian Rogers confirmed to The Daily Beast.

McCain leaves for Kiev tonight and will be there Saturday and Sunday. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, is joining the trip Sunday. He is coordinating the trip with the State Department.

“It is appalling that Ukrainian authorities have chosen to use violence and oppression against peaceful demonstrators in Maidan Square in Kiev. Such despicable conduct violates the most basic universal rights—especially the freedom to speak and associate—that are owed to all people,” McCain said in a statement Dec. 11. “If Ukraine's government thinks that brute force and the politics of fear can see it through the current crisis, it is woefully mistaken. More and more Ukrainians are showing that they are no longer afraid. Those brave men and women should know that they are not alone. Their friends across the world stand in solidarity with them.”

Video screenshot

This recent episode of 'Darkroom' dives into the roiling protests in Ukraine.

Previously, McCain criticized the Ukrainian government’s decision to turn away from negotiations over greater ties with the European Union and urged the government to respect the will of the people while treating the protesters with respect.

“Ukrainians should not be forced to choose between a future in the west or the east. They should be free to chart their nation's future as they choose, in the best interest of Ukraine's citizens,” he said. “As Ukrainians continue to press their government to take the necessary steps to sign an association agreement with the EU, the Ukrainian government should listen to the voices of its people and respond to their legitimate aspirations.”

McCain has a long history of supporting emerging democracies in the former Soviet Union. During the height of his 2008 presidential run, he strongly criticized Russian aggression in Georgia and dispatched two top emissaries, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, to “stand in solidarity” with Georgia’s leaders.

Thursday night, McCain spoke at the annual gala of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, where he called for a more active U.S. foreign policy and introduced honoree Vice President Joe Biden, who also criticized Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych for the violence against street protesters perpetrated by the Ukrainian government.

“My conversation with Yanukovych just in the past few weeks, I’ve made it clear that he has a choice. He can choose a path that leads to division and isolation or can take immediate tangible steps to diffuse his country’s crisis and start a genuine dialogue with the opposition to agree to a path that returns Ukraine to economic and political health,” Biden said. “We hope he leads his country back to its European path, but he needs help. Because it’s in the most fundamental interest of the United States that Ukraine succeed, the door is open. And what the Ukrainian people have to know is that the America stands with them on the side of universal rights, democratic principles, and economic assistance and intervention.”

Editor's note: This article was updated to clarify a quote from McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.