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Seth Moulton returns from secret Ukraine visit

Representative Seth Moulton.John Locher/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Representative Seth Moulton on Sunday night returned from a swift and clandestine trip to Ukraine, his first since the Russian invasion.

Traveling with a bipartisan delegation of five members, Moulton flew to Poland via Germany on Thursday night, then boarded an overnight train to Kyiv late Friday. They spent Saturday meeting with American and Ukrainian officials on the ground there before departing the country that night.

“Fundamentally, the question we’re trying to answer is, how do we better support Ukraine to win this war,” Moulton said in an interview with the Globe on Sunday night. “You can’t really understand a war until you see it close to the ground.

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Unlike his controversial — and unauthorized — trip to Kabul with Republican Representative Peter Meijer of Michigan in August 2021, when the American withdrawal of troops plunged Afghanistan into chaos, this trip was authorized and formally organized through the House Armed Services Committee, on which Moulton and the rest of the delegation sits. Also on the trip were Representatives Ruben Gallego of Arizona, Sara Jacobs of California, Salud Carbajal of California, all Democrats, and Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina, a Republican.

Moulton said the delegation met with various officials at the American embassy, including the ambassador, and the deputy minister of defense, and a key anti-corruption official for Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelensky was not in Kyiv at the time.

“Are we getting them what they need? The answer is that overall, we’re doing a very good job,” Moulton said. “But sometimes they are frustrated with the speed, they think things could be getting in more quickly.”

The Ukrainians’ needs have evolved over the course of the war. At the moment, Moulton said, the most pressing need is anti-aircraft systems that can slow the Russian onslaught on the nation’s energy infrastructure.

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The invasion of Ukraine has stretched to nearly 10 months, with the Russians sustaining heavy losses in lives and artillery, although they have secured some territory in the Eastern part of the country and bombarded its cities and power grid from the air. The United States has committed $20 billion in aid, but there are some signs that Republicans will want to tighten the purse strings when they take a narrow House majority in January. Earlier this year, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus sent — and then quickly retracted — a letter calling on the White House to negotiate directly with Russia about the war.

“They’re concerned about where this could go,” Moulton said. “I think they’re thinking about the comments of [Republican House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy, and they’re thinking about that letter from the progressives.”

Moulton, a Salem Democrat and a Marine veteran, has at times fashioned himself as a critic of American foreign and military policy, but he said the administration has done a “remarkable job” assisting Ukraine and holding together an international coalition.

Moulton was part of a delegation that visited Ukraine almost exactly a year ago, as Putin was amassing troops at the border, and he warned in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. was not acting quickly or urgently enough to prevent an invasion. In October, he visited Taiwan with another bipartisan delegation.

Moulton said the delegation saw considerable destruction, including destroyed Russian tanks and a city pocked with damage from missiles, but he was struck by Kyiv’s resilience.

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“War fatigue is a real thing,” Moulton said. “It’s easy for people to forget what’s going on there, but it’s a horrendous fight, it certainly didn’t need to happen, but we’ve got to ensure that they win.”

Moulton is not the first member of Massachusetts’ Congressional delegation to visit Ukraine since the invasion. Representative Jim McGovern of Worcester visited Kyiv with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in May, where they met with Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials.


Jess Bidgood can be reached at Jess.Bidgood@globe.com. Follow her @jessbidgood.