House, Senate approve Ukraine aid

The House and Senate on Thursday approved bills that would provide financial aid to Ukraine while imposing sanctions on Russia for Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea.

Senators passed their bill in a voice vote, providing an overwhelming show of support that became possible after Democrats dropped provisions dealing with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

“Today is an important day for Ukraine,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said. “This bill is a reality check to [Putin] that the United States will not stand idly by while he plays the role of a schoolyard bully.”

In the House, members approved legislation in a 399-19 vote that would provide loan guarantees to Ukraine, spend millions to promote democracy and security in the country and sanction Russian officials who threaten its sovereignty.

"If we want to check aggression from Russia, we must push back," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.).

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the Ukraine bill should be a first step toward re-evaluating the U.S. relationship with Russia.

"We must fundamentally reassess our assumptions about Russia, and acknowledge that Putin himself scrapped the administration's reset policy a long time ago," Cantor said. "We need a new strategy that understands Putin for who he is, not who we wish him to be."

Before Thursday's final vote in the upper chamber, senators approved an amendment from Senate Foreign Relations Committee leaders Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that adds sanctions to broader aid legislation for Ukraine.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) were the only "no" votes on the amendment.

The provision would spend more than $100 million to promote democracy and security in Ukraine while imposing economic sanctions against anyone deemed by the president to have undermined the country’s security or independence, or to have engaged in corruption in Ukraine or Russia. 

The sanctions codify steps already being taken by the Obama administration against Russia and expand the criteria for possible sanctions targets, while giving the administration the ability to waive them.

The amendment was added to the House-passed aid package that would provide Ukraine with $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees to help maintain the country’s independence from Russia.

At the urging of the administration, the Senate bill originally called for changes to IMF funding, but many Republicans objected, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). 

“Now I hope we’ll be able to get our friends in Ukraine the aid they need without much delay,” Boehner said Wednesday. “This is what’s possible when Senate Democrats focus on finding common ground.”

“But let’s be clear, this is only a small breakthrough, and we need to build on it.”

Reid and other Democrats said they were willing to drop the IMF provision in order to send a strong message to Russia.

Corker said he hopes the Senate will take further action in the coming weeks to "turn the volume up" on Russian sanctions if Putin doesn't back down.

— This story was updated at 12:49 p.m. 

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