U.S. House Ends Week Without Acting on Russian Sanctions

The U.S. House of Representatives ended the week without sending legislation providing financial aid to Ukraine and expanding sanctions on Russian officials to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The legislation, intended as punishment for Russia’s incursion in Crimea, passed the Senate yesterday with broad bipartisan support. It includes about $1 billion in loan guarantees and authorizes $150 million in direct assistance to Ukraine. It imposes sanctions against Russians and Ukrainians deemed responsible for corruption and violence.

The measure remains unfinished until Congress returns next week.

“Today is an important day for Ukraine and for all nations who support international law, democracy and decency,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday, framing the vote as a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“This bill is a reality check to him that the United States will not sit idly by while Russia plays the role of schoolyard bully,” said Reid, a Nevada Democrat. “Russia’s place in the world has transformed. It does not wield the global power that it once did.”

Residents of Crimea voted on March 16 to join the Russian Federation, and Putin completed the annexation last week.

Brief Session

The House held a brief “pro-forma” session today in which it took no action on the legislation and adjourned.

The House yesterday passed separate legislation that would impose additional asset freezes and visa bans on senior Russian officials and corporations. That bill passed 399-19.

The Senate cleared the way for legislation to move forward yesterday by stripping a provision for International Monetary Fund support that was seen as an impediment in the House.

Obama said in Rome yesterday that the U.S. and its allies are looking at Russia’s military, energy and finance industries as possible further targets if the country moves deeper into Ukraine. Yet additional sanctions would inevitably also hit the U.S. and European economies, he said at a news conference.

“None of them, to have a powerful impact on Russia, are going to have zero impact on us because Russia is part of the world economy,” Obama said, appearing with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. “Everybody owns a piece of everything.”

Under the measure awaiting final congressional approval, Russian officials, as well as their close associates or family members, also may be subject to sanctions, which could include blocking access to assets held in the U.S. and prohibiting travel to the U.S.

‘Act Decisively’

“It’s up to the Congress, it’s up to us to act, to act decisively and to send a clear message,” said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican.

The legislation the House passed yesterday would make a larger circle of people potentially subject to sanctions, including those who are alleged to have significantly undermined democratic processes or committed serious human rights abuses in Ukraine, according to a BGOV comparison of the two bills. No immediate Senate action on it was expected.

The separate Senate legislation which the House has held until at least next week would require the U.S. 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. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the measure on March 12 in a bipartisan 14-3 vote.

Yesterday’s Senate vote was scheduled two days after Reid acquiesced to Republican demands and dropped language that would have increased the U.S. share -- or quota -- for the IMF and implemented a 2010 international agreement giving rising economies more clout at the global organization.

Republicans in the House and Senate objected to the IMF changes and said they would block them.

Reid said the Senate-passed measure “is just the beginning” of congressional efforts to rebuke Putin.