Congress takes aim at Russia

Getty Images

The House and Senate moved Wednesday toward sanctioning Russia for its occupation of Crimea. 

Divisions surfaced, however, over the best way for Congress to move forward.

ADVERTISEMENT
The House unveiled a $1 billion line of credit for Ukraine’s new government that could get a floor vote as early as Thursday, while a key panel teed up a vote on a sanctions resolution.

Republican leaders also announced that they’ve asked their committee chairmen to prepare sanctions legislation.

The Senate, meanwhile, is cobbling together a larger Ukrainian aid package that could include a first batch of sanctions as well as International Monetary Fund (IMF) reforms championed by the White House.

It is lagging behind the House, however, to the frustration of congressional Republicans.

“I don’t know what putting it in a package gets you other than feeling good about having a bill that’s more than one page long,” said a House leadership aide. “It’s not going to make Kiev feel more secure.”

The line of credit would enable Secretary of State John Kerry to immediately deliver on the promise he made during a Tuesday visit to Kiev. The Senate, however, is still debating a broader package, according to several Senate aides.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said a broader package is critical to help Ukraine, which he argued was teetering on collapse because of the mismanagement by its former leaders.

“We are also consulting with the administration on possible sanctions actions against individual Russians and Ukrainians that range from visa bans and asset freezes to the suspension of military cooperation and sales, as well as economic sanctions,” he said.

One topic of discussion has been the Obama administration’s request to increase U.S. funding for the IMF. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew tied the proposed reforms to the situation in Ukraine during budget testimony before the Senate on Wednesday, but the House has rejected that effort.

“I appreciate the secretary raising the IMF issue as we are dealing with it in the Foreign Relations Committee,” Menendez said during the Senate Finance Committee hearing. “But, I think it’s beyond Ukraine, it’s a question of whether we want to be in a position in the world to be able to influence the economic issues that affect us here at home, but that stabilize opportunities abroad.”

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced Wednesday that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) would work with committee chairmen on a bailout package for Ukraine, and on “sanctions that could strengthen the president’s hands.”

Possible disagreement over next steps also emerged, however, on the House Foreign Affairs panel, which usually operates with bipartisan comity.

Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said he’s putting together a bill that would impose “crippling sanctions on Russian high-ranking officials, state-owned banks and commercial enterprises, and key individuals behind the Russian intervention.”

His Democratic colleague and usual legislative partner, Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), appears less sanguine, however.

“I’m more concerned about Ukrainian freedom than I am about sanctioning Russia,” Engel told The Hill in a hallway interview. He played down any rift with Royce, however, insisting that they remain “on the same track.”

In any event, the pair is collaborating on a sanctions resolution that’s expected to come to a vote on Thursday following a hearing with State and Treasury officials.

The resolution “calls on the administration to work with our European allies and other countries to impose visa, financial, trade, and other sanctions on senior Russian Federation officials, majority state-owned banks and commercial organizations, and other state agencies, as appropriate.” It declares that Russia should remove all its forces from the Crimean peninsula, except those agreed to under the agreement to use the Sevastopol port as a base for its Black Sea fleet.

The congressional debate comes as Kerry met in Paris on Wednesday with his counterparts from Ukraine and Britain, which are fellow signers along with Russia of a 1994 pact guaranteeing Ukraine’s territorial integrity if it gave up its nuclear arsenal. Moscow skipped the meeting, further inflaming tensions.

And the Pentagon upped its air defense presence in Eastern Europe by sending six more F-15 fighter jets and a KC-135 refueling aircraft to Poland after it called for an emergency NATO meeting to deal with the Russian incursion into Crimea.

Kerry mentioned the beefed-up U.S. military presence in remarks to the press after meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.

“Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has actually united the world in support of the Ukrainian people,” Kerry said in Paris. “And this morning, Secretary Hagel announced that the Defense Department is taking concrete steps to reassure our NATO allies, steps like expanding our aviation detachment in Poland and our contributions to NATO’s Baltic Air policing mission.”

— Updated 8:16 p.m.