Last week, Rep. Eliot Engel brought a wreath from the Ukrainian community in Yonkers and laid it in the epicenter of this year’s anti-government protests in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
It was part of a three-country, nine-day tour in which the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee, joined for part of the trip by the panel’s Republican chairman, sought to show U.S. support for a range of struggling causes.
“It’s important for the United States to show a presence in this region while the region is undergoing turmoil,” Mr. Engel said in a phone interview after his trip, which included stops in Armenia and Azerbaijan. “It’s important for Russia to see us there. It’s important for the people of Ukraine to see the United States cares about them.”
After laying the wreath amid a scene of burnt tires and damaged buildings still near Kiev’s Maidan Square, where demonstrations led to the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich in February, Mr. Engel went on to meet the country’s acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and other members of the precarious interim government there.
While pro-Russian forces continue to cause unrest in eastern Ukraine — with observers worried that Moscow wants to take over territory beyond Crimea, which Russia annexed in March — Mr. Engel is looking to sanctions and upcoming elections to thwart Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aims.
“These elections are the best way for Ukraine to clearly show what direction the country wants to go,” the congressman said.
He added that he expects Russia will try to undermine voting, scheduled for May 25, in eastern Ukraine, and claim that the elections are invalid. But Mr. Engel said he hopes economic sanctions, which the U.S. expanded on Monday, will help contain Russia.