Florida senator set for Ukraine trip to review fast-changing conflict

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, November 6, 2012. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, November 6, 2012. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT) MCT

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, is scheduled to travel to Ukraine, the war-torn nation battling pro-Russian supporters inside its borders and fearing masses of Russian troops outside.

Nelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will leave for the region later this week.

The former Soviet republic but now-independent nation has been r oiled by protests and fighting between pro-Russian rebels and the Kiev government. The U.S. and NATO have supplied non-lethal equipment to Ukrainian forces, and the Obama administration could send weapons to Ukraine if Russia were to invade, Nelson’s office said.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has pushed to be able to bring aid to the area.

Nelson, in a statement, said, “I believe Putin's offer of humanitarian aid is a guise to invade."

Nelson will fly commercial to the region, and will be in the capital of Kiev in the Ukraine. His exact schedule is being held quiet for safety reasons. While in the Ukraine and nearby nations, he will meet with diplomats and U.S. and NATO military officials. He will also visit with the Ukrainian government to show them the support of the Armed Services Committee, as well as to gather information to share with his committee colleagues. It’s his first trip to the country.

“We have a situation that changes by the hour,” Nelson said in a Monday afternoon conference call with reporters. While Ukrainian forces have surrounded rebels, suggesting the situation could ease, it’s impossible to predict the outcome.

“By the time I get there, who knows what will have happened,” he said.

While the Obama administration has resisted sending military equipment, Nelson said he supports doing so. “I support giving arms to the government to help them protect themselves from the big Russian bear,” he said.