Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has voiced skepticism about what role Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama will play in Ukraine after the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Corker, speaking to reporters Thursday at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, said a major issue in the weeks ahead will be whether the West can "try to deter Russia from a 'soft partitioning' of Ukraine" into East and West segments.
"I'm concerned with what Putin will do," Corker said. "If Ukraine moves to the West, it will shape Russia's future in a big way. If [Putin] pulls them back to the East, it affects Russia's future in another way."
Corker revealed that he recently had a classified briefing with Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. But he nonetheless questions whether President Barack Obama "really has a plan. It seems as though we're just catching up" when it comes to Ukraine.
Corker said doubts about the U.S. role in the world were raised by the failure of the Obama administration to take action against Syria after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to approve the use of force against the Assad regime.
"People began questioning 'Where is America? What is happening to America?'" Corker said.
In discussing the rapidly changing situation in Ukraine, Corker recalled having coffee recently with Georgia's 31-year-old Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, and said Ukraine today "brought back memories" of the Russian military strike at Georgia in 2008.
Corker said Ukraine "continues to be a replay of what we saw in Georgia." Corker added that the Kremlin has even more at stake in Ukraine than it did in Georgia because "there is a very important naval base" in Ukraine.
"Can the U.S. move fast enough to deal with the economic issue in Ukraine?" Corker asked. "Can the [International Monetary Fund] move fast enough" to aid Ukraine?
Asked by Newsmax what his thoughts were about a return to power in Ukraine by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko — who last week was released from her imprisonment under arch-foe Yanukovych — Corker said "all the reported responses to her address to the Maidan [the Ukraine freedom fighters] were both good and bad. It was not an overwhelming response."
In a not-so-veiled reference to Tymoshenko, the senator warned that Ukraine's "massive structural problems" tell the world: "You can't just have someone come in and do what the last government did."
Urging popular elections for the new government, Corker said: "You cannot have someone [in power] who doesn't have a mandate. On this issue, the people are going to have to speak."
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