US weighs aid to Ukraine

The Obama administration and Congress are weighing financial aid to Ukraine to help the country recover from its political crisis.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew spoke Monday to opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk and told him that the country should seek aid from the International Monetary Fund as well as bilateral help as soon as a transitional government is firmly in place. The country is preparing for new presidential elections in May after parliament voted to remove President Viktor Yanukovych from office over the weekend following deadly protests.

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“The G-20 met this weekend and Secretary Lew made clear that as soon as the transitional Ukraine government is fully established by the parliament, we and many of the other ministers would certainly support Ukraine beginning discussions with the IMF,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday. “That's one component.”

“From the U.S. standpoint, I don't have any specific update on that,” Psaki added. “Those discussions are ongoing. And, of course, we'd need Congress as a full partner in that, which is certainly an important component, and one of the reasons that we remain in very close contact with Congress.

Lawmakers have vowed to help.

“Now more than ever, the Ukrainian people need the continued support of their friends. The country is on the brink of economic crisis, and a host of difficult challenges awaits the new government and the Rada,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement Monday. 

“The path of reform will be difficult, but if the new Ukrainian government is prepared to make these tough – and, at times, unpopular – decisions, it will need significant assistance from the IMF and the European Union. The United States must be ready to provide additional assistance as well.”

Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, America's Number 2 diplomat, is traveling to Ukraine this week to meet with the country's new leaders. Burns is accompanied by representatives of the Department of the Treasury and the National Economic Council, “who will work in concert with partners such as the EU and the IMF to discuss needed financial support while a new government implements the difficult steps necessary to reform the economy,” according to the State Department.

Ukraine's Finance Ministry says it needs $35 billion in foreign assistance over the next two years, Reuters reports, and has called for an international donor's conference in the near future. 

U.S. and European support are seen as crucial to resolving the country's deep economic crisis, and weening it from dependence to Russia. Moscow had offered $15 billion last year if Yanukovych abandoned a popular association agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia, a decision that set off weeks of protests that culminated last week.

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