HARTFORD - Sen. Chris Murphy told hundreds of Ukrainian-Americans in Connecticut on Monday that if Russia's moves against Ukraine are unchecked it will seek to undermine other European allies of the United States.
The junior Democratic senator brought Republican Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, to Connecticut where they roused a crowd of more than 500 people at the Ukrainian National Home in Hartford.
"Make no mistake about it. Vladimir Putin has one agenda and it is to re-establish some new version of the Soviet empire," Murphy told a crowd of more than 500. "This is not just about Ukraine. This is about the Balkans, the Baltics, Georgia, Moldova. This is about the European Union. He is attempting not just to try to break Ukraine. He is trying to break Europe. He is trying to break the trans-Atlantic alliance."
McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the United States must help Ukraine with economic support, defensive weapons and information to fight what he called Russian propaganda.
"We have to counter this ruthless ambition in a broad variety of ways," he said. "I believe with all of my heart that it is a terrible mistake for us not to provide Ukraine with defensive weapons, but that's not the only aspect to this."
Census estimates show Connecticut was home to 19,761 residents of Ukrainian ancestry in 2013, of a total population of nearly 3.6 million. The number of residents of central European background, particularly Poles, but also including Czechs, Hungarians, Lithuanians and Slovaks, was nearly 400,000.
Murphy touted a "bipartisan commitment" to support Ukrainian sovereignty, and McCain sought to lessen the distance between him and Murphy on the extent of aid offered to Ukraine by President Barack Obama.
Murphy said he's proud of what the United States has done to oppose Putin, but Ukrainians "deserve a greater level of support" from the United States, the Obama administration and Congress.
McCain told CBS News last month he's "ashamed" of Obama and himself for failing to do more to help Ukrainians. However, he told reporters Monday there is "very little difference" between him and Murphy.
House Speaker John Boehner and a group of top Democrats and Republicans pressed Obama last week to provide lethal, defensive weapons to Ukraine in its fight against Russian-backed separatists.
Putin denies arming rebels in the war in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 6,000 people and forced more than a million to flee. The fighting began in April, a month after Russia annexed the mostly Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula.
Roman Kukhtyn, who emigrated from Ukraine 16 years ago and now lives in Wethersfield, compared Russia under Putin to the former Soviet Union, which controlled Ukraine and other central European countries for decades after the end of World War II. "It's the same thing," he said.
"I have to do everything to support Ukraine," Kukhtyn said.