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Tensions between Russia and Ukraine: US Senate delegation meets with Ukrainian president threatens Russian invasion threat

The two-part delegation - Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, along with Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Roger Wicker of Mississippi - sought to confirm The United States' commitment to the country, while Russia gathers tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine's border.

Murphy told reporters by phone from Kiev that Ukraine is focused on increasing US support, but that the country is "combat-tested" and "ready".

"If Putin thinks he will go into central or western Ukraine without a significant fight, then he has fundamentally misunderstood the Ukrainian people and their preparedness," the Connecticut Democrat said.

During the meeting, Zelensky told the US delegation: "It is very important for Ukraine, for our people, that you are with us today," according to the Ukrainian government. "This testifies to the constant bicameral, bipartisan support of our state, as well as its sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko told CNN that he expects the US delegation to make strong recommendations to Congress to increase sanctions against Russia after Monday's meeting.
The visit follows a series of diplomatic meetings last week that the United States and NATO allies hoped would force Russia to withdraw from its aggressions against neighboring Ukraine. But the negotiations failed to achieve a breakthrough, as Russia would not commit to de-escalation, and US and NATO officials said Moscow's core demands - including that NATO never include Ukraine in the alliance - were non-starters.
A US official told CNN last week that the United States has information suggesting that Russia has prepositioned a group of operators to carry out a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine in an attempt to create a pretext for an invasion . And a number of Ukraine's state websites were hit by a cyber attack on Friday - a development that European officials warned would increase tensions even more.

CIA Director Bill Burns met with Zelensky during a previously planned trip last week, two sources familiar with his trip told CNN.

Burns "consulted with intelligence partners because of concerns about a further invasion of Ukraine by Russia," a U.S. official said. "They discussed current assessments of the risk to Ukraine. While there, he also had the opportunity to discuss the current situation with President Zelensky and efforts to reduce tensions."

The CIA has a long-standing policy of not commenting on or publicly announcing the director's trip.

"In this time of extreme Russian provocation, it is more important than ever to assert our strong, bipartisan support for Ukraine's sovereignty," Klobuchar said in a statement on Monday.

This message was repeated by Wicker, who said that Ukraine "is on the border of the free world."

"This sovereign country deserves the steadfast support of its American friends in this dangerous and crucial time," he added.

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken briefed a group of U.S. lawmakers who are considering traveling to Ukraine, said Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Toria Nuland.

"He will review all aspects of the policy with them and make sure that they are up to date, both in terms of diplomacy but also in terms of costs and in terms of our commitment to the Ukrainians, who have been extremely rich and full, as you know, and ask them to bring messages of preparedness and unity, "she said at a briefing at the State Department.

U.S. officials and European allies have warned that Moscow would face unprecedented economic consequences if it invades Ukraine further, but the Biden administration has so far indicated it will not use sanctions as a deterrent.

"If Russia wants to move forward with diplomacy, we are quite ready to do so, in step with our allies and partners. If Russia wants to go down the path of invasion and escalation, we are also ready for it with a robust response. , that will cut off their strategic position, "said National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on CBS Sunday.

"So from our perspective, we are simultaneously pursuing deterrence and diplomacy, and we have been clear and steadfast in it, again, fully united with the transatlantic community," he said.

This story has been updated with comments from Senator Chris Murphy and details of CIA Director Bill Burns' visit to Ukraine.

CNN's Jennifer Hansler, Kylie Atwood, Natasha Bertrand, Katie Bo Lillis and Matthew Chance contributed to this report.

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