Christine Stuart photo

Addressing a crowd of Ukrainian-Americans in Hartford on Monday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn. said that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ultimate goal is the re-establishment of an empire, and that security in Europe and the Balkans is hanging in the balance.

“He is attempting not just to try to break Ukraine, he is trying to break Europe, he is trying to break the transatlantic alliance, and if he is not stopped here then we have no idea what the end point will be,” Murphy said of Putin. “We believe that this is one of the greatest threats that the world order has ever faced in our lifetimes.”

Fighting continues in Ukraine despite a ceasefire deal reached in February between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian government. When violence flared in Ukraine last year, in March 2014, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13661 sanctioning Russia for its military involvement in the dispute, which the order said were serving to “undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine.”

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McCain said Putin hopes to return Russia to a position of dominance in the world.

Christine Stuart photo

“In order to understand what is happening in Ukraine, we have to understand Vladimir Putin,” McCain told the standing room only crowd at the Ukrainian National Home. “He’s a man who wants to restore the Russian empire. He believes that it’s his mission to do that.”

McCain called Putin’s ambition “ruthless,” and said that the stability of trade in the west may be at risk.

“If Vladimir Putin took part of one of the Baltic countries, say one of the provinces that is largely Russian speaking, that could be the end of NATO,” he said.

McCain and Murphy have made three trips to Ukraine together, meeting with diplomats and speaking at rallies in the Balkan nation. The issue of a Democratic Ukraine has been a focus for both senators for years.

“We have tried to maintain our bipartisan commitment to standing up for the simple idea of Ukrainian sovereignty,” Murphy said.

Both Murphy and McCain have taken issue with the Obama administration’s response to violence in Ukraine, and though Murphy said he is “proud of what the United States has done,” he admitted to differences with the administration.

“We think that we can go further,” he said.

McCain has been a much harsher critic, saying on CBS’s Face the Nation in February: “I’m ashamed of my country, I’m ashamed of my president and I’m ashamed of myself that I haven’t done more to help these people.”

McCain said Monday that economic sanctions against Russia are a part of the solution, but that the Ukrainian people need military and economic assistance, as well as “moral support.”

“The one thing about Ukrainian people is they want freedom and they want democracy and they believe that they have those God-given rights and they have struggled for them, for centuries,” he said.

The attitude between Murphy and McCain was congenial, each praising the other for their willingness to work with the opposing party.

“I want you to know that he is part of the glue in the United States Senate,” Murphy said of McCain. “He is one of the unfortunately small number of bridge builders, who isn’t afraid as a Republican to reach out across the aisle.”

McCain, calling Murphy a “worthy successor in my view to my friend Joe Lieberman,” hinted that higher office could be in store for Connecticut’s junior senator.

“He’s not a bad looking guy,” McCain said. “I’ve said a couple times, if I looked like Chris Murphy I might be president of the United States.”

Christine Stuart contributed to this report.

Jordan Fenster is an award-winning freelance journalist. He lives with his family in Fairfield County. He can be reached by or @JordanFenster on Twitter.

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