McCain Considers Ukraine Sanctions

After a trip to Ukraine, the Arizona senator tells The Daily Beast that Congress would consider sanctions if the government uses violence against protesters.

Sergei Chuzavkov/AP

If the Ukrainian government attempts further violence against peaceful protesters, the U.S. Congress could begin a process to impose sanctions on the country, said Sen. John McCain, who just returned from a visit to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

“Sanctions are something we said the Congress would consider,” McCain said in a Monday interview with The Daily Beast following his two day trip to Ukraine, where he was joined by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). “We didn’t threaten the sanctions, but we both said that sanctions would be a consideration if there was any brutality against the protesters.”

The specifics of such sanctions are unclear, but the Ukrainian government “should not have any doubt that there would be consequences for any further violence,” said McCain.

The Arizona senator addressed a crowd of 100,000 and 200,000 protesters in Kiev’s main square, which he described the largest crowd he had ever spoken to in his political career. McCain also sat down for two and a half hours with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, had dinner with opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and Oleh Tyahnybok,, and met with Ukrainian religious and civil society leaders as well.

During his meeting with the Ukrainian President, McCain expressed his dismay with the president’s dismissive attitude toward the protest movement; which has been gaining steam since late November after demonstrations erupted following the government’s decision to withdraw from trade talks with the European Union.

While about ninety percent of the conversation focused on the Ukraine’s trade relationship with Russia, McCain said that Yanukovych offered almost no constructive thoughts when the Arizona senator brought up the protestors.

“He said he’s going to pursue membership in the European Union but he was very dismissive of the protests and said they were extremists and troublemakers,” the Arizona senator said.

In recent days, Yanukovych has indicated he would like to return to trade talks with the EU. Top EU negotiators have rejected those comments though because they don’t believe Yanukovych is sincere in his desire to reengage with the EU.

As for the protesters, McCain said, “Their message is that they want to be in the European Union but what that really means is they want their alignment towards the EU and not to Russia. They are tired with the corruption that has permeated the government. And they want a better government... The corruption is rife.”

He added “Our message was we were with them and we believe they have the right to align themselves with European Union and we support their efforts,”

The Obama administration has done a good job of expressing support for the Ukrainian people’s aspiration for European integration in recent weeks, McCain said, noting the trip to Kiev by Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. But overall, the Arizona senator was disappointed with the adminstration's efforts to confront what he described as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive and expansionist agenda in the states of the former Soviet Union.

“I’m glad [the administration is] in support, I wish they had done that in the past, and I wish they would come out in support of all these nations that border Russia and Putin continues the pressure,” he said. “What happens in Ukraine is very, very important regarding the ambitions Putin has in extending Russian influence."