By Todd Beamon
While embattled Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych and the leaders of that country’s protests urged a truce on Wednesday, two U.S. senators called for sanctions against those responsible for two days of heavy bloodshed that has left at least 26 people dead.
“The recent violence in Ukraine is tragic and horrific,” Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said in a joint statement. “We condemn the crimes that have been committed and the loss of life that has occurred, including at the hands of some anti-government protesters.
“However, the ultimate responsibility for the deteriorating situation in Ukraine lies with the Yanukovych government,” the senators said. “It has refused to take meaningful, timely steps to resolve the country’s political and economic crisis through dialogue, while making opaque deals for Russian financing as a means of avoiding necessary reforms.
“The government has escalated tensions, cracked down on peaceful demonstrators, and taken up arms against its citizens,” the statement said.
The senators, who visited the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, in December, said legislation they have proposed would impose “targeted sanctions on government officials and other persons who have committed, ordered, or materially supported acts of violence against peaceful citizens in Ukraine, or who are complicit in the rollback of Ukraine’s democracy.”
“These sanctions should not, and will not, target the people or the country of Ukraine as a whole,” they said. “Instead, they will be narrowly focused on those individuals who must be held accountable for violating human rights and undermining democracy.”
Yanukovych’s office announced the truce in a brief statement late Wednesday after he met with top leaders of the protests, which flared into violence on Tuesday and left hundreds injured in addition to the 26 deaths.
The statement provided no specifics on the truce itself or how it would be implemented.
Earlier Wednesday, Yanukovych moved to quell the growing insurgency by granting sweeping powers to the army and police, which imposed martial law. The move gave the military the right to search, detain, and even fire on Ukrainians, the Defense Ministry said.
President Barack Obama warned Ukraine that “there will be consequences” for violence if civilians are hurt or if the military becomes involved in a situation that civilians should resolve.
The United States condemns the violence in the strongest terms, Obama said, and holds Ukraine’s government primarily responsible for making sure it is dealing with peaceful protesters appropriately.
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton accused Obama of practicing moral equivalence.
“He calls on the government not to resort to violence, and then in the next sentence he calls on the demonstrators to be responsible,” he told Fox News Channel. The United States did the same thing in 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia, he noted.
“The likes of Vladimir Putin see that behavior and they say, ‘The field is open,'” Bolton said.
The truce is a tactical move by the Ukrainian government, he said, because it didn’t expect 26 deaths when police tried to clear the square. Once the Winter Olympics are over, expect things to heat back up, Bolton said.
Sanctions are not the answer, he said, because they will only drag the economy down to Russia’s level.
The United States has ignored the problem for the past five years, since Ukraine made overtures toward becoming a member of NATO, Bolton said.
The protests began in November, when Yanukovych’s government abandoned an agreement to strengthen ties with the European Union, instead seeking closer cooperation with Russia. Days later, police brutally attacked protesters — galvanizing public support for the demonstrators.
In December, more than 300,000 people attended a demonstration, which later led to activists’ seizing Kiev City Hall.
“Ukraine is strategically a very important country,” Ariel Cohen, who was born there and is now a senior research fellow with the Heritage Foundation in Washington, explained to Newsmax. “It has massive industry, including advanced aerospace, great agricultural potential, and borders with five NATO members.
“Both the U.S. and the Europeans were behind the curve,” he added. “They didn’t recognize that Yanukovych is taking Ukraine away from the West, which facilitates its entry into the Russian sphere of influence.
“The majority of urban and educated Ukrainians do not want to return to Russian domination. They want to be in Europe. They want to be free, both economically and politically.
“The man who failed the Ukraine is Mr. Yanukovych,” Cohen said. “It is a tragedy that throughout history Ukraine elects leaders who bring it to Russian domination.”
Meanwhile, former Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Paul said on Wednesday that both the United States and Russia should stay out of Ukraine.
“I think talking and diplomacy is the answer here,” Paul, father of Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, told Neil Cavuto on his Fox News program.
“We could use a lot more wavering,” he said. “We could use a lot more discipline in trying to set a moral standard here at home, and taking care of our own business.
“I think the more procrastination, the better,” he said.
Paul called for a coalition government in Ukraine, and said it should be formed without the involvement of the two superpowers.
“We’ve tried it for too long,” he told Cavuto. “The American people are sick and tired of it — and we’re also out of money.”