Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines was in Eastern Europe last week when he accepted an offer to become the first US senator to visit Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion of the country nearly two months ago.
What Mr Daines saw there left a strong impression. Asked directly whether Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “terrorist” in an interview with Newsy‘s Maritsa Georgiou on Tuesday, the Republican senator answered strongly in the affirmative.
“He is committing war crimes,” Mr Daines said. “He is committing atrocities. And he needs to held accountable for it.”
Mr Daines traveled to Ukraine last Thursday by way of Poland, where he was met by a Ukrainian pastor who drove him to the border. Mr Daines then walked across the border at night, before another pastor met and drove him to the Lviv train station for the nine-hour journey to Kyiv.
As part of his travels in the country, Mr Daines visited the city of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, where he says he saw men, women and children piled into mass graves. Russian forces have been accused of extrajudicial killings and war crimes in the city, and Mr Putin has praised the unit allegedly responsible.
“The worst of all was when we went to the site with the shallow graves where they put hundreds of people, murdered by the Russians. Executed by the Russians,” Mr Daines toldKTVQ in Billings.
Since returning to the US, Mr Daines, like a number of his Senate colleagues, has been pushing for a muscular American response to the Russian invasion.
“It is strength that takes down a bully, not weakness,” Mr Daines told Newsy. “Weakness invites bullies. And Vladimir Putin, as we’ve said, he’s far more than a bully: he’s a terrorist, and he’s one who has committed war crimes through his troops on the ground in Ukraine. The evidence is irrefutable, I’ve seen that with my own eyes.”
Thus far, President Joe Biden has steadfastly refused to send American troops to Ukraine to aid the country’s resistance efforts — wary of escalating the conflict beyond Eastern Europe. Mr Biden has, however, pushed to furnish Ukraine with military assistance and said today that the country will receive another shipment of American weapons.
Mr Daines, who made the journey to Ukraine with fellow Republican US Representative Victoria Spartz of Indiana, said that he hopes more US lawmakers will travel to the country to see for themselves the damage that the Russian invasion has wrought.
“Nothing can substitute for actually being here, seeing it first-hand, spending time with the people and leaders here in Ukraine who have been horribly affected by this war,” Mr Daines toldNew York Times.
The lawmakers’ visit was organized by Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, who said that he too would like to see more American elected officials visit his country to see first-hand evidence of the destruction.
There is, at this point, no sign of an imminent end to the war. Russia earlier this week launched a new invasion of the eastern Donbas region, while fighting continues to rage in the southeastern city of Mariupol.