Congress Poised to Pass Ukraine Aid Bill With Sanctions

The U.S. Senate is set to pass legislation providing aid to Ukraine and imposing sanctions against Russia with a final House vote possible later today.

The Senate vote comes two days after Majority Leader Harry Reid dropped language that would have increased the U.S. share - - or quota -- for the International Monetary Fund 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.

“No legislation could have passed with those provisions included,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said yesterday.

The Senate bill, S. 2124, includes about $1 billion in loan guarantees and authorizes $150 million in direct assistance to Ukraine following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and massing of troops on the Ukrainian border. The House on March 6 passed legislation, H.R. 4152, that would provide the roughly $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine without addressing sanctions.

The Senate measure would 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.

Asset Recovery

The legislation 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. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the measure on March 12 in a bipartisan 14-3 vote.

The House is scheduled to vote today on legislation that would impose additional asset freezes and visa bans on senior Russian officials and corporations.

The new House measure would codify sanctions already announced by President Barack Obama. It would encourage imposing more penalties on Russians with “significant influence over the formation and implementation of Russian foreign policy” involving Crimea, according to the bill’s text.

Residents of the Black Sea peninsula voted on March 16 to join the Russian Federation, and Russian President Vladimir Putin completed the annexation last week.

Gas Exports

The bill, H.R. 4278, includes additional economic assistance for Ukraine and would signal U.S. plans to increase natural gas exports. Republicans have said such a move eventually would reduce Russia’s leverage over other European nations that depend on its gas exports.

Reid said yesterday that the measure the Senate will vote on today is an initial step in congressional aid to Ukraine.

“I hope we can move beyond what we are going to do” for the Ukrainian people, Reid said on the Senate floor, urging senators to come up with a bipartisan “package of things” the chamber could consider in the next few weeks.

The White House, meanwhile, criticized Republicans in Congress for holding the IMF changes “hostage.”

“Supporting these reforms would have meant Ukraine could access additional assistance, and it’s unfortunate that Republicans stood in the way,” White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said yesterday in Belgium during Obama’s European tour.

Senate Democrats, who control 55 seats in the 100-member chamber, potentially had enough votes to preserve the IMF language, though doing so would have set up a showdown with the Republican-led House.

“All it’s going to do is slow the political process down,” House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters March 25.

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