The U.S. Senate agreed to advance legislation to aid Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians deemed responsible for violence and intimidation as Russia took control of Crimea.
The Senate voted 78-17, with 60 required, to move forward to debate on the measure, clearing the way to begin considering amendments as soon as tomorrow.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today urged swift action on the legislation, vowing to keep the Senate in session this weekend if necessary to complete work on it.
Delay “sends a very weak message” to Moscow, said the Nevada Democrat, who blamed Republicans for slowing action, noting that Russia moved to annex Crimea while Congress was on a one-week break that ended today.
“It’s impossible to know whether events would have unfolded differently if the United States had responded to this Russian aggression with a strong, unified voice, which we did not do,” Reid said.
Republicans in the House and Senate oppose a provision in the Senate legislation that would increase U.S. support for the International Monetary Fund. A Ukraine aid bill passed by the House on March 6, H.R. 4152, didn’t include the provision sought by President Barack Obama to boost the U.S. share, or quota, at the IMF and implement a 2010 international agreement giving rising economies more voice.
Among the amendments Republicans may seek to offer on the Senate floor are proposals to strip the IMF language and to boost U.S. natural gas exports to countries that are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The Senate bill, S. 2124, would provide about $1 billion in loan guarantees and authorize $150 million in direct assistance to Ukraine.
The measure would require Obama to impose sanctions against Ukrainians and Russians deemed responsible for corruption and violence. Russian officials, as well as their close associates or family members, also could be subject to sanctions, which could include blocking access to assets held in the U.S. and prohibiting travel to the U.S.
The bill would require the U.S. government to assist the Ukrainian government in the recovery of assets secured through acts of corruption by former president Viktor Yanukovych, his family and other government officials
“We need to send a strong, clear message to Russia that there are consequences to their action in Crimea,” said Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who was part of a bipartisan senatorial delegation to Ukraine last week.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the measure on March 12 by a bipartisan vote of 14-3 with Republicans John Barrasso of Wyoming, Rand Paul of Kentucky and James Risch of Idaho voting against it in part to protest the IMF language.
House Republicans are insisting that a one-year delay in Internal Revenue Service rules governing political activity by some nonprofit groups be paired with the changes to IMF financing that Democrats want.
Reid has vowed to block Republicans from extracting a delay in the IRS rule in exchange for the IMF money.
House lawmakers could vote as soon as this week on another bill that would increase U.S. sanctions on Russia, including additional asset freezes and visa bans on senior officials and corporations.
That measure would codify sanctions already announced by Obama and encourage imposing more on Russians with “significant influence over the formation and implementation of Russian foreign policy” involving Ukraine, according to the bill’s text.
The measure, H.R. 4278, includes additional economic assistance for Ukraine and would signal U.S. plans to increase natural gas exports. Republicans have said that eventually would reduce Russia’s leverage over other European nations that depend on its gas exports.
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