- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin received a couple of blunt warnings from U.S. policymakers Sunday over his involvement in the protest-wracked Ukraine.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice warned that it would be a “grave mistake” for Russia to send troops to break up the protests that forced out Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich over the weekend.

“That would be a grave mistake,” she said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It’s not in the interest of the Ukraine, or of Russia, or of Europe, or of the United States to see the country split. It’s in nobody’s interest to see violence return and the situation escalate.”

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said that the protests should make Mr. Putin “a little bit nervous.”

“And by the way, if I was Vladimir Putin today at the end of the Olympics, I’d be a little nervous, because the people of Russia have watched this transpire, and they’re tired of the crony capitalism and kleptocracy that governs Russia today,” said Mr. McCain on “Fox News Sunday.” “If I were him, I’d be a little bit nervous.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, stands next to Alexander Zubkov, gold medalist in the two-man and four-man bobsleigh for Russia, during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/David Goldman, Pool)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, stands next to Alexander Zubkov, gold medalist ... more >

Mr. McCain said the protests were spurred by Ukrainians who want a Western-style democracy, and insisted that splitting the Ukraine along its Eastern and Western divide was not the answer.

He advised U.S. policymakers to “speak out, to make the message clear to Vladimir Putin that a partition of the country would not be acceptable. The Ukrainian people should determine their own future.”

“They want to be Western — that’s what this whole hundreds of thousands in the square was all about,” said Mr. McCain. “They don’t want to be Eastern.”

Despite the tough talk, Ms. Rice said the Obama administration has no interest in returning to the Cold War construct, calling it a “pretty dated perspective,” and stressed that the United States “is on the side of the Ukrainian people.”

“[T]he Ukrainian people have indicated from the outset three months ago when this began, that President Yanukovich at the time, his decision to turn away from Europe was not the choice of the Ukrainian people,” Ms. Rice said. “The Ukrainian people expressed themselves peacefully, they were met with violence, and that did not end well for Yanukovich.”

Mr. Putin has pushed to keep the Ukraine in his sphere of influence, but Mrs. Rice said the Ukrainian government could pursue a Western-style democracy while maintaining its connection to Russia.

“There is not an inherent contradiction between a Ukraine that has longstanding historic and cultural ties to Russia and a modern Ukraine that wants to integrate more closely with Europe,” Ms. Rice said. “This need not be mutually exclusive.”