Rice Says U.S. Will ‘Play a Role’ in Aiding Ukraine

White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice said the U.S. will work with European partners to help finance Ukraine’s economic recovery, while warning Russia that any insertion of its troops would be “a grave mistake.”

With Ukraine’s president in hiding and its future uncertain after months of protests and a fragile peace agreement, Rice delivered a two-pronged message in a televised interview today, pledging assistance for a transitional government while urging a cessation of violence by both sides.

If Russian President Vladimir Putin sends troops into Ukraine, “that would be a grave mistake,” Rice said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “It’s not in the interests of 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.”

The unrest in Ukraine marks the bloodiest episode of the country’s post-World War II history. The crisis erupted Nov. 21 when President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an integration pact with the European Union and opted instead for $15 billion of Russian aid. Violence intensified last week in Kiev amid frustration among protesters that their demands for governance changes were being ignored.

Clashes in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, have killed at least 82 people. A peace agreement signed on Feb. 21 calls for a national unity government. Ukrainian lawmakers voted yesterday to remove Yanukovych, who had left the capital, and to hold elections May 25.

U.S. Role

“They need to reform and they need financing,” Rice said of a transition government. “The United States will play a role, along with our partners in Europe.”

She said the International Monetary Fund would be a key player in any financing agreement, and that Russia also may participate.

Standard & Poor’s warned on Feb. 21 that Ukraine risks default without “significantly favorable changes” in its political crisis and cut its credit rating to CCC, eight levels below investment grade. Russia has halted its $15 billion bailout because of the unrest.

The U.S. Senate’s No. 2 Democratic leader, Richard Durbin of Illinois, said he spoke yesterday with opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, the ex-premier who returned to the political stage after being released from a prison hospital.

Peaceful Resolution

“She assured me that she’s looking for a peaceful resolution to the problems in Ukraine, to follow the constitution and the law,” Durbin said today on “Fox News Sunday.”

Echoing Rice’s call for U.S. assistance, Durbin said, “We have to combine our efforts with the European Union to help Ukraine move forward in a peaceful, democratic way. We have to put the pressure on Putin to stop his efforts to undermine this natural evolution toward democracy. And Yanukovych has always been a puppet of Moscow.”

Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said the U.S. must make clear to Putin that “a partition of the country would not be acceptable” and he must “let the Ukrainian people determine their own future.”

McCain, who visited Ukraine recently and talked with opposition leaders, said the U.S. will need to provide some economic assistance.

Economic Collapse

“Their economic situation is so dire that literally their economy is on the verge of collapse,” McCain said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program today. “They’re going to need help immediately.”

Rice’s appearance today marked her first Sunday television interview since her widely criticized performance on all five network shows following the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Rice, in those interviews less than a week after the attacks, said the assault stemmed from a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islamic video that spiraled out of control. There was no protest at the U.S. mission that day and the administration revised its initial assessment about two weeks later to say the assault was “a deliberate and organized terrorist attack.”

The controversy effectively derailed Rice’s consideration to be the next secretary of state, following the departure of Hillary Clinton.

Asked about the controversy today, Rice said she had conveyed “the best information I had at the time,” which “turned out in some respects not to be 100 percent correct.” She said accusations that she misled the public are “patently false.”

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