State Department Tried To Block Congressman’s Ukraine Fact-Finding Trip

KIEV, Ukraine -- A House Armed Services Committee member says the State Department tried to block him from visiting close to the front lines in Ukraine, but he broke free and went anyway Tuesday.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, near the front lines on Tuesday with Ukrainian border officials.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and a former Marine office, is on a two-lawmaker congressional delegation.

He wants to know what the Ukrainian military is up against in an onslaught from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s army and his surrogate pro-Russia guerrillas.

Joe Kasper, the congressman’s chief of staff, said Mr. Hunter used a go-between to set up his own itinerary, including meetings with Ukrainian defense officials.

Mr. Kasper said the State Department prefers that members of Congress base themselves at the U.S. embassy, where they receive briefings.

But Mr. Hunter, notable for taking on the Obama administration on personnel and weapons issues, wanted to break away from the hand-fed information and find the “ground truth.”

“State wants to control the visit and control the information that comes back to Congress,” Mr. Kasper said.

He said Ukrainians told Mr. Hunter that State Department officials told them not to take the congressman to the front.

After meetings, including with Gen. Ivan Rusnak, first deputy defense minister, Mr. Hunter and Rep. Mark Sanford, South Carolina Republican, took a helicopter ride to the line of demarcation. Mr. Kasper said Mr. Hunter wants to know the state of the Ukrainian military, the exact threats from Russia and what weapons are needed to defend the country.

He said Mr. Hunter’s first confrontation with the State Department happened when he chose to stay in a hotel in Kiev not approved by the U.S. embassy.

Putin has lamented the collapse of the old Soviet empire, when he served in the KGB spy service.

Experts believe he is trying to build a new empire by aggressive actions, such as capturing Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014.

Later, Russia-backed separatists began taking territory in eastern Ukraine with the aid of, according to the Pentagon, more than 7,000 Russian troops in Ukraine.

Col. Gen. Stepan Poltorak, the Ukrainian defense minister, visited a military hospital on Tuesday and vowed to keep Ukraine free.

According to the ministry, he said, “We’ve done a lot during this year. However, we clearly realize we must do more for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, our defenders, and our Ukraine. We must do a lot to make our army such as nobody has intention to cross the state border. We’ll do everything to defend the independence of Ukraine.”

Source: The Washington Times