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    Sunday, October 02, 2022

    How the Russians see Murphy's Ukraine visit

    Back in June, I criticized the decision of Sen. Chris Murphy to become directly involved in the highly complex, high-stakes drama that has played out over the past year in Ukraine.

    Recall that the freshman Democratic senator from Connecticut - who by his own admission had little foreign policy experience before his election to the Senate in November 2012 - found himself on Dec. 14, 2013 on a stage in Kiev, Ukraine addressing a massive crowd that was seeking the overthrow of the elected government.

    "You are making history," Sen. Murphy told his audience. "If you are successful, the United States will stand with you every step of the way."

    Joining him on the stage was the hawk from Arizona, Republican Sen. John McCain, who assured the gathering, "American stands with you."

    As I wrote in June, neither Murphy nor McCain had the authority to make such pledges of American solidarity with the rebellion in Ukraine. As corrupt as was the administration of President Victor Yanukovych, he had come to office in a legitimate election, the bad choice of a citizenry fed up with the corruption of the prior administration.

    After recently listening to an expert on Russia, I know realize the actions of McCain and Murphy may have had far greater repercussions than I had imagined.

    "The Russians saw that and said, 'This is proof that this is not a grassroots Ukrainian uprising. This is a carefully orchestrated, controlled CIA and NATO plot,'" said E. Wayne Merry on Sept. 25, when I asked him about the appearance of Murphy and McCain on that Kiev stage.

    Merry was addressing the Southeastern Connecticut World Affairs Council, of which I am a member. His talk took place in the community room of the new Charter Oak Credit Union headquarters in Waterford.

    Merry is a senior fellow for Europe and Eurasia at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C. and an expert on post-Soviet Russia. He spent 26 years in the U.S. Foreign Service. He specialized in Soviet and post-Soviet political issues for the State Department, including six years at the American Embassy in Moscow, where he was in charge of political analysis on the breakup of the Soviet Union.

    Merry told his audience that he considered the uprising against Yanukovysh - who was driven from office - to be a legitimate grassroots movement. But in Merry's opinion, actions such as those by Murphy fed the paranoia of Moscow and President Vladimir Putin that it was something far more sinister.

    "If they see our senators doing that sort of thing, they do not see that as political posturing. They see it as organizing the overthrow of a government that is legitimate, but that is not doing what Washington is telling it to do," Merry said. "From that they drew conclusions that were grotesquely excessive to the reality of the situation."

    What followed the fall of Yanukovych, of course, was Putin's move to grab Crimea. Russia continues to foster a revolt in eastern Ukraine among Russian nationalists. A divided Ukraine - the pro-Western west and the pro-Russia east - is locked in a fragile stalemate.

    As for that promise to "stand with you every step of the way," it did not happen. There have been sanctions, but they have done little to change Putin's course, and Washington has rejected Ukraine's plea to provide arms to help it deal with the Russian-fueled rebellion in the east. Europe, in particular, has no interest in poking the Russian Bear.

    This is not to blame Murphy for what transpired, but it is now clear he would have been better off staying home, or at least off that stage.

    Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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