Ohio Sen. Portman travels to Ukraine, meets with troops

Visit to combat zone comes as Ukrainian troops are fighting Russian-backed separatists.

Concluding a trip that included a visit with Ukrainian troops near a combat zone with Russian separatists, Sen. Rob Portman said today he was “encouraged” by Ukraine’s efforts to improve its military efficiency and predicted that with continued U.S. help Ukraine eventually would re-unite its entire country.

In a telephone interview from Ukraine’s capital of Kiev, Portman, R-Ohio, said he was “more encouraged after this trip,” adding Ukraine has “had no trouble recruiting soldiers. They are professionalizing them very quickly. And they’re very motivated and when you are defending your homeland that tends to be the case.”

“I leave encouraged they can not only just hold the line, but they have resolve to ultimately prevail and put their country back together,” Portman said.

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Portman got as far as the line separating Ukrainian forces from Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine. At one point, the Russians fired artillery not far from where Portman was meeting with soldiers from a Ukrainian brigade.

“It was very noisy,” Portman said with a laugh, adding it was “only a reminder of the fact that this is a hot war.”

Portman has been a strong advocate for supplying Ukraine with weapons and other assistance to help them fight Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine who are backed by Moscow.

In March 2014, President Barack Obama imposed economic sanctions on Russia after Moscow annexed Crimea, a peninsula that was part of Ukraine. Portman sharply criticized President Donald Trump in January of 2017 when Trump hinted he might not enforce the sanctions.

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Since then, Portman said, the Trump administration has been more willing to supply Ukrainian troops with advanced defensive weapons. Portman said the Ukrainians are expected to soon receive the Javelin anti-tank missile which he said “the Ukrainians have been wanting very badly.”

During a visit to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, Portman met with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, Defense Minister Stepan Poltarak, and other senior government officials.

Poroshenko presented Portman with the Order of Merit, a medal given to those who have worked to improve the country’s national defense, development of democracy, and human rights record.

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