U.S. Senator John McCain says Russia is trying to keep Ukraine from joining the European Union.
In an interview with RFE/RL, McCain, who has just returned from a visit to Ukraine where he expressed support for pro-EU protesters, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was not known for giving away money.
The influential senator was referring to a deal announced on December 17 after a meeting in Moscow between Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yanukovych, under which Russia has promised Ukraine $15 billion in loans and cheaper natural gas.
"I think the Russians are trying to keep Ukraine from joining the EU. One of the leaders of the coalition [Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) opposition party leader Arseniy] Yatsenyuk said, 'Free cheese is only found in a mousetrap,' and I think that he's right there," McCain said.
While in Ukraine, McCain met with Ukrainian officials and opposition leaders. He also addressed an opposition rally and viewed Independence Square, where pro-EU protesters have gathered in past weeks.
McCain told RFE/RL that he had been impressed by the tens of thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets over Yanukovych's decision to shelve the anticipated signing of a pact on closer ties with the European Union.
He said witnessing thousands of demonstrators braving the "bitter cold" and standing up for their demands was "one of the most moving experiences" he'd ever had.
McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee who lost the presidential race to Barack Obama, said he believed the majority of people in Ukraine want to be aligned with the West.
"They want to be part of the European part of the world, rather than Russia and not only do they want that but they're very tired of the heavy corruption that's there and also the lack of economic development, which they see in Europe," McCain explained.
McCain, who has strongly condemned the use of force to disperse protests, said Washington should consider sanctions if violence was used against peaceful protesters.
"I couldn't give you the exact kind of sanctions. But, as you know, we passed the Magnitsky Bill as the result of the needless murder of Sergei Magnistky and that targeted individuals," he said. "That would be the kind of a model but again only if there was violence against peaceful demonstrators."
McCain said he had been pleased with Washington's response to the crisis, including Secretary of State John Kerry's strong condemnation of the crackdown.
The U.S. senator expressed hope that the United States will continue to stand up for Ukrainian protesters in the name of human rights. He added that the future of Ukraine will be determined by the Ukrainian people.