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Sen. King says US should stay engaged ‘until Putin is out’ of Ukraine

angus king zelensky.jpg
Office of Sen. Angus King
U.S. Sen. Angus King, right, poses with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, and Rhode Island U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, left, during a visit to Ukraine in a photograph provided by the Ukrainian government. King worse a sweatshirt featuring the image of Joshua Chamberlain, a decorated Union officer in the U.S. Civil War from Maine.

Following a trip to Ukraine, Maine Sen. Angus King said he hopes Congress will continue to support providing military aid for that country’s war against Russia and that the U.S. must stay engaged until Russian forces withdraw.

King, an independent, traveled to Ukraine late last week with Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The trip took place as the White House announced an additional $3 billion in military assistance, including armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles and a Patriot missile defense system.

Speaking with reporters remotely on Monday morning, King said the fight in Ukraine "is our fight" because history suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin won't stop at Ukraine. He compared Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to Adolf Hitler’s aggressions in the lead-up to World War II.

“I believe we should remain there until Putin is out [of Ukraine],” King said. “I don't see this as a long, 20-year struggle which we saw in Afghanistan. Here we have a strong government, a strong armed services that are fighting on their own with our help."

King said one objective of the trip was to find out how the Ukrainians are accounting for the billions of dollars in assistance they have received so far. And King said he “came away very reassured” with those accounting systems and that Zelenskyy understood the importance of preventing misuse.

"Understanding that it's got to be accounted for, it's got to be looked on as precious taxpayer resources not to be wasted,” King said. “But protecting democracy, freedom and confronting authoritarianism as President Zelenskyy said in his address to Congress, isn't charity. It's an investment."

Some Republicans, most notably in the new GOP-controlled House, have questioned how much money and military assistance the U.S. is providing to Ukraine. Since Russian forces launched their large-scale invasion last February, the U.S. has provided more than $24 billion in assistance to Ukraine, according to State Department figures. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy has said there would be “no blank checks” for Ukraine.

“I don’t think that the mainstream of the Republican party in the House is sharing these sentiments, but it is concerning. And I think we have to continue to remind people how important it is and that this is not some far-away conflict that doesn’t involve us. That’s the same attitude that was in this country in the late-1930s. And because of lack of response to Hitler in the west between 1936 and 1939, we ended up with World War II and 55 million people killed. So this is a place where we can stop this.”

Both King and Reed are members of the Senate Armed Service Committee, with Reed serving as chairman. The pair met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv as well as with other military and government officials during their trip.

In one picture released by King’s office, the senator is seen standing alongside Zelenskyy while wearing a shirt with the image of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, former Maine governor and Civil War hero. Although he would serve with distinction throughout the war, Chamberlain is best known for leading the 20th Maine’s defense of Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg, when the unit – severely outnumbered and running out of ammunition – repulsed repeated attacks from Confederate troops that were trying to outflank the Union army.

Asked about the shirt on Monday, King said Zelenskyy’s “courage, determination and grit” made him think of Chamberlain.

“I just felt it was a gesture that I could make out of respect for him to connect what he is doing to what Joshua Chamberlain did for his country throughout his career – the greatest citizen that Maine ever produced and it felt good to me to have him with me in that room,” King said.