WASHINGTON -- Representative Stephen F. Lynch is returning from Ukraine Monday with “considerable concern” that Russia’s military presence on the country’s eastern border poses a threat of invasion.
Lynch, a South Boston Democrat, visited with the country’s leaders during a critical time, on the heels of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and ahead of May elections that were a large focus of his visit. Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire, led the trip, which also included Senator Joe Donnelly, an Indiana Democrat.
Ukrainian officials told Lynch they view the Russian build-up -- which includes air support -- with great trepidation, despite assertions from Russia’s general in the region that they are merely training.
“That’s what he said in Crimea,” Lynch said Sunday evening by telephone, just before his Monday morning return flight. “It looks much more like an invasion force.”
“If it’s a show, it’s a very big show,” he added.
In addition to meeting with a wide spectrum of political leaders, Lynch said he spoke with young Ukrainian men who are increasingly concerned they will have to fight. Many began receiving pre-draft letters in recent days warning them to be available in the event they are drafted, he said.
Lynch said he supports House legislation, which is set for a vote this week, that would extend loan guarantees to Ukraine.
“In our talks with Ukrainian leadership, none of them has actually asked for boots on the ground,” he said.
Lynch’s week-long trip also included stops in Israel and Afghanistan, where the delegation met with President Hamid Karzai. Lynch said he was frustrated that Karzai is still refusing to sign a security agreement with the United States that will allow for a transition as troops are withdrawn. He was also upset that Afghanistan unexpectedly released prisoners accused of killing Afghan citizens and US soldiers.
The prisoners had been turned over by British authorities under the expectation that they would be tried in Afghan courts.
“We had a pretty lively discussion about that,” Lynch said.
Though the trip involved grave issues of national security, Lynch noted it also had a local component. General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., the commander in Afghanistan, was born in South Boston and moved to Quincy when he was 10.Noah Bierman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.