Angus King's visit comes as divided House Republicans elected as speaker Kevin McCarthy, who pledged not to give a "blank check" to Ukraine.
In a screenshot from a video shared on social media by a Ukrainian official, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, shakes hands with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Friday. U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, is behind them. Credit: Courtesy of Ukraine Ministry of Internal Affairs

After meeting with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, U.S. Sen. Angus King said Sunday that letting House conservatives pull defensive support for the country would be “catastrophic,” comparing it to chances missed to stop Adolf Hitler before World War II.

King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, returned from Kyiv on Saturday and spoke to CBS’ “Face the Nation” about the visit. The senator was pictured in an official Ukrainian video meeting with the country’s president while wearing a sweatshirt with the face of the legendary Civil War Gen. Joshua Chamberlain of Maine, King’s personal hero.

His visit came just after the Biden administration announced $2.85 billion in new aid to Ukraine in its war with Russia, including dozens of anti-tank Bradley fighting vehicles. The war, which began after an invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin in February, has killed at least 42,000 people and displaced 14 million, according to Reuters.

It also comes just after divided House Republicans finally elected Kevin McCarthy of California as speaker after a chaotic 15 rounds of voting that delayed the organization of the chamber for days.

He said during the 2022 campaign that Republicans would not give a “blank check” to Ukraine. To win the job, he made concessions to House conservatives, including those who have decried billions in spending on aid, although a broad majority of the chamber supports it.

“It would be catastrophic to cut off aid to Ukraine at this point,” King said. “I would just ask those people that are making those noises to read a little history.”

He then noted two of the Nazi provocations that preceded World War II, including Hitler’s occupation of the demilitarized Rhineland in 1936 and his 1938 annexation of the Sudetenland region of what was then Czechoslovkia. King said Hitler could have been stopped, and when he was not, “we ended up with 55 million deaths” worldwide due to war.

“The Ukrainians are fighting for us, for our values,” he said. “The aid that we’re providing for them isn’t charity, it’s self-interest.”

Part of King’s agenda on the trip alongside U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, was probing Ukraine’s oversight of the U.S. aid, the Maine senator said. While The Wall Street Journal has noted no examples of malfeasance have emerged, officials and experts have said it is only a matter of time and any scandal may erode public support for Kyiv.

King said he reminded Zelenskyy of this but saw that the country was tracking “every spare part.”

“I was very impressed by the level of accountability, and so this argument that somehow the money’s being wasted, I don’t think that holds water,” he said.

The recent round of aid to Ukraine follows $47 billion in a massive spending bill last month and a separate $1.85 billion defense package around the same time. The latter package included the first truck-mounted missile defense system as well as an undisclosed number of kits that modify massive bombs by adding tail fins and precision navigation systems so they can be guided to a target.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said the new round featuring the Bradleys will provide “both an offensive and a defensive capability to Ukrainians to be able to change the equation on the battlefield.”

The aid comes on the heels of Zelenskyy’s dramatic visit to Washington last month, when he slipped secretly out of his war-torn nation for the first time to thank America and predict that 2023 would be a “turning point” in the conflict, now in its 11th month.

“Your money is not charity,” he said, and instead is ”an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...