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Sunday Show Round Up: Ukraine and Benghazi

Kiev, Ukraine / AP
• February 23, 2014 3:45 pm

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Ukraine was the primary focus of each Sunday news program as protestors and the government move towards a transitional government.

"The United States is on the side of the Ukrainian people," said National Security Adviser Susan Rice. "And the Ukrainian people have indicated from the outset, three months ago when this began, that President Yanukovych, at the time, his decision to turn away from Europe was not the choice of the Ukrainian people. The Ukrainian people expressed themselves peacefully; they were met with violence and that did not end well for Yanukovych."

Rice’s comments came during an appearance on NBC’s "Meet the Press."

A deal to end the violence was signed on Friday and the Ukrainian parliament replaced Yanukovych with an acting head of state Sunday morning. Yanukovych has fled to the eastern part of Ukraine, but has not officially stepped down.

Despite the potential progress, many have raised concerns that Russia, a close ally of Yanukovych, may "work to undo the deal through economic and other pressures."

Russian President Vladimir Putin is "viewed as the architect of this bloody crackdown," said David Gregory, host of NBC’s "Meet the Press."

"Do you not fear that this could take an ominous turn, that Russia … could decide perhaps to send forces in and restore the kind of government that Russia would like to see?" Gregory asked Rice.

"After all, it was Putin who guaranteed $15 billion of loans to Yanukovych so that they would reject the West, reject the European Union."

Rice said that such a decision by Russia would be a "grave mistake," and splitting the country between western Ukraine and the pro-Russian eastern Ukraine would not be beneficial to any nation.

"It’s in nobody's interest to see violence return and the situation escalate," Rice said. "There is not an inherent contradiction between a Ukraine that has long-standing ties to Russia and a modern Ukraine that wants to integrate more with Europe."

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.) called on President Barack Obama to send that message to Putin, and told "Fox News Sunday" that the focus moving forward should be on Russia.

"They need to focus on forming a unity government." Ayotte said. "Yanukovych needs to step aside… now that the Olympics are over, we need to watch the behavior of the Russians."

"I believe the president needs to up his game and send a clear unequivocal, public message to Putin not to interfere in what is happening in Ukraine. To let the Ukrainian people determine their future, to ensure that there is no interference in their sovereignty, and I think this is an important time for him to do that."

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), who appeared on the same program, noted, "Every new president is going to try to forge a new relationship with Russia and try to have a more peaceful outcome to our dealings. You expect that, whether the president is Democrat or Republican… let’s not forget that Vladimir Putin wasn't just a member of the KGB—he was the head of the secret police, the Soviet KGB. This is a man that we should take very seriously."

"Russia and Moscow and Putin, will continue to pressure Ukraine and the trump card they own is natural gas," Durbin said. "Gazprom provides gas for these countries, and when Putin doesn't like their political behavior, he cuts it off or raises the price out of sight, so he has the power to pressure."

"We have to combine our efforts with the European Union to help Ukraine move forward in a peaceful democratic way."

The situation in Ukraine began to unravel when Yanukovych "rejected a far-reaching accord with the European Union in November 2013," favoring instead closer ties with Russia.

Ukraine's parliament had stalled "on taking up a constitutional change to limit presidential powers" on Feb. 18. The decision led to increasingly violent protests and the bloodiest week to date.

"Ten years ago, there was the Orange Revolution in Ukraine… [The United States and Western Europe] didn't do as much as we could have to help the newly democratic Ukraine," said Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, on ABC’s "This Week."

"It was very corrupt; the oligarchs facilitated the corruption. Putin did not help at all. And so we ended up where we were, and now the people of Ukraine have done it again. It’s bottom up, and that's great."

"Liberty is a plant of stronger growth than those of us in the West think," Kristol continued. "Once that spark is there people remember it and want it back. We need to help them."

"All honor to the people of Ukraine for beginning this process, but if we and the Europeans cannot make ourselves as strong a force for democracy and the rule of law in Ukraine as Putin is for the opposite, then things may not go well," Kristol added.

Ayotte pointed to the situation as an important opportunity for the president to show "clear American leadership" and reorganize what she called the United States’ failed reset policy with Russia.

"What happens in the Ukraine very much matters," she said. "They need to determine their future, not Russia. We have seen obviously behavior from Putin from harboring Snowden to the efforts to interfere in Syria, and also with arming the Assad regime, in addition to that thinking about the reports of their violations of the IMF treaty, their reset policy has failed. It's time to reset the reset, and I think Ukraine presents an opportunity for the president to do that with clear American leadership here for a good outcome."

In addition to discussing Ukraine, Rice was asked about her Sunday show appearances in 2012 that became infamous in the debate over Benghazi and arguably cost her the position of Secretary of State.

Rice said she had no regrets when it comes to those appearances.

"What I said to you that morning and what I did every day since was to share the best information that we had at the time," she told NBC’s David Gregory. "The information I provided, which I explained to you, was what we had at the moment. It could change. I commented that this was based on what we knew on that morning, was provided to me and my colleagues and indeed to Congress by the intelligence community and that's been well validated in many different ways since. That information turned out in some respects not to be 100 percent correct, but the notion that somehow I or anybody else in the administration misled the American people is patently false, and I think that that's been amply demonstrated."

Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) called the comment "embarrassing."

"I'm almost speechless," McCain said on CBS’s "Face the Nation."

"It's patently obvious, first of all, that Susan Rice had no reason to be on the programs," McCain said. "She had no involvement in it. Second of all, she read talking points that we're now beginning to believe came from the White House, which were absolutely false … And of course, the information was totally misleading, totally false, and for Susan Rice to say such a thing, I think it's a little embarrassing to tell you the truth."