A U.S. Senate committee has been discussing Ukraine's political crisis after a Ukrainian court announced a ban on protest rallies in central Kyiv, an area where thousands have been conducting antigovernment demonstrations since late November.
The Kyiv court agreed with requests by city officials to ban rallies until March 8. Its ruling, dated January 8, was published on January 15.
The ruling defines banned rallies as those "using loudspeakers... posters, putting up tents, stages, or curtains."
The court decision has raised concerns among those still demonstrating in Kyiv that police may soon be deployed to dismantle their protest camps.
But according to reports issued shortly after midnight on January 16 by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, there was no immediate major police action against encamped demonstrators.
Thousands remain on Kyiv's Independence Square, the site of the initial protests against President Viktor Yanukovych's decision not seek closer political and trade ties with the European Union in order to bolster relations with Russia.
Earlier protests had gathered hundreds of thousands and were visited by top EU and U.S. officials.
In Washington on January 15, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that the United States wanted Ukraine's political crisis to be resolved democratically and without further violence by police or demonstrators.
"Like the vast majority of Ukrainians, the United States and our partners in the European Union want to see the current stand-off resolved politically, democratically, and above all, peacefully," Nuland testified.
"This last point applies to the government and to protesters alike, and we condemn the actions of rioters outside a Kyiv court building on January 10," Nuland continued.
"However, the use of violence and acts of repression carried out by government security forces and their surrogates have compelled us to make clear publicly and privately to the government of Ukraine that we will consider a broad range of tools at our disposal if those in positions of authority in Ukraine employ or encourage violence against their own citizens."
Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said U.S. President Barack Obama's administration had failed to criticize Russia "openly and strongly" about its use of economic coercion.
But Nuland refuted that charge.
"We have made clear consistently, both publicly and privately, that the coercive actions of Russia, not only against Ukraine but also against Moldova and Georgia, are violations of many undertakings that they have made including Helsinki principles and in some cases [World Trade Organization] obligations, and we will continue to be absolutely clear about that," Nuland said.
Republican Senator John McCain, who traveled to Kyiv in December to express support for the protesters, blamed Russia for Ukraine's crisis.
"[Ukraine] is a country that wants to be European," McCain said. "They don't want to be Russian. That's what this is all about. That's what the EU means to them. The Russians have used energy. They've even cut off chocolate. They have bullied. They have supported the corruption, which is rampant in Ukraine."
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Thomas Melia told the Senate committe hearing that "the embers that sparked the protests in late November are still burning and will not be easily extinguished."
Melia said Washington will continue to provide support to those Ukrainians who believe in a democratic and European future for their country.
With reporting by Golnaz Esfandiari in Washington, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Reuters, AP, and Interfax