Updated — 8:23 p.m., ET:
WASHINGTON — House Ukraine Caucus Co-Chairwoman Marcy Kaptur said Saturday that while she is concerned about the potential for bloodshed in Ukraine, she understood Russian military action.
On Saturday, Russia effectively invaded the ethnically diverse Crimean region of Ukraine. The Russian Parliament also granted Russian President Vladimir Putin the authority to use military action in the country.
"If I was President Putin, I would have worried with the collapse of the Party of Regions, about peace in the Crimea … I understand Russia's military posture. The United States has never been invaded the way Russia has," Kaptur said in an interview with BuzzFeed Saturday afternoon.
While other lawmakers like Sen. Chris Murphy see the invasion as the start of a broader effort to reassert Russia's Cold War influence over Eastern Europe, Kaptur — a Democratic congresswoman from Ohio and progressive champion — argues ethnic tensions in Crimea drove Putin to take drastic action.
"It was not unexpected. I view, and I'm sure the Russians do, [Crimea] as their rear flank … [and] we seem to be in between leaders right now," Kaptur said, explaining that the collapse of Ukraine's government last week has led to upheaval throughout the country, including Crimea, where the Party of Regions had maintained peace between Tartars, ethnic Russians, and other groups in Crimea. "The Party of Regions kept it civil … some group had to step in to mediate that, and at the moment it appears to be Russian troops," the Ohio Democrat said.
"I don't know what other choices there were … it's one of those situations where things got out of control quickly."
In an emailed follow-up comment, Kaptur emphasized a broad international response to instability in Ukraine, and on Russia's military intervention in Crimea.
"I did not mention that Russia does not control territorial waters of the Black Sea," she said in the email. "That means working with the government of Ukraine, official delegations of international diplomatic leaders could arrive through the Black Sea, engage in fair handed assessments of the current situation, and negotiate through the Ukrainian government deescalation of the current intervention crisis to protect Ukraine's integrity, recognize Russia's longstanding interests in its fleet's access, and move toward peaceful resolution of the Crimean situation to avoid bloodshed."
Russia has used the potential for ethnic violence as its official reason for invading Ukraine, although there appears to be no independent evidence that Tartars and ethnic Russians have engaged in any significant violence, and most U.S. officials view those claims as a thin pretense.
Kaptur's grandparents emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine, where her great uncle was persecuted by Soviet authorities and imprisoned in a gulag for 20 years. Kaptur, who has regularly travelled to Ukraine since 1973, said she and other lawmakers have reached out to Russian officials urging them to find a quick and peaceful solution, and acknowledged that economic sanctions — including freezing Russian assets or those of export customers — may be necessary. "We have to keep these options open," Kaptur said.
But Kaptur said she hopes it does not come to that, and that the international community can find a way forward. "Where has the United Nations been" she questioned, adding that "the world community should rise to the occasion" and help protect Ukraine.
Kaptur said her overriding concern is avoiding another tragedy in Ukraine, which has seen repeated violent invasions and internal outbursts for more than a century.
"Whether it's Russian or Ukrainian, the amount of bloodshed these places have endured … we simply can't go back to the slaughter," Kaptur said.
Kaptur's office issued the following statement on Sunday:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 2, 2014
STATEMENT BY CONGRESSWOMAN MARCY KAPTUR
As founder and co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus and someone who has dedicated herself to helping Ukraine and her people gain their full liberty, I am dismayed and deeply disheartened to see my comments selectively printed, or edited out of context by Buzzfeed. The blog post utterly misrepresents and convolutes my position on Russia's illegal invasion of Crimea. It is false, inaccurate and does not remotely reflect my position or my feelings about the Ukrainian political crisis.
My position is this: I stand with the freedom lovers of Maidan, and have proclaimed so many, many times.
I condemn the illegal invasion of Ukrainian territory by Russia under Putin and call for the immediate withdrawal of the Russian military. Furthermore, I support American and international efforts to assist Ukraine during this perilous time and will expend every effort to contribute to the country's long-term economic prosperity with European aspirations and development in all directions—west, east, north and south—to meet her destiny as a great borderlands nation and the crossroads of Central Europe. I also support an international peacekeeping force, if the new government of Ukraine requests it, to avoid further bloodshed.
I can say with certainty that no Member of Congress has spoken more about Ukraine, engaged with more of its leaders and citizenry, or visited there more often, starting in 1973 when it was still under Soviet occupation and most recently last July. As a Member of Congress, I founded and developed the House Ukrainian Caucus to give Ukraine voice at the highest levels when no channel existed. In 1985, as a junior Member of Congress, I co-authored the legislation to create the Holodomor Commission to document the forced starvation of millions of Ukrainians at the hands of the Soviet Union. In terms of my continuing efforts to record the truth about the tyrannical abuses of the Soviet dictatorship, I was instrumental in spearheading efforts to release thousands of pages of documents relating to the massacre of Polish officers at Katyn.
I wholeheartedly support the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for a democratic, free and just society where the rule of law prevails, without corruption or government violence directed against citizens.
I support the new government of Ukraine and its ability to function free of interference from Russia.
This moment in Ukraine's history is so pivotal that I find it highly disturbing and destructive to have my remarks be taken so utterly out of context. My record of heartfelt support of Ukraine's struggle for full liberty is documented in the Congressional Record, multiple news stories, and personal writings. Buzzfeed should accurately print my actual position in the interests of Ukraine and its people's heroic struggle for liberty and full human rights.