Senate’s Russia sanctions talks face final snags

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)
Greg Nash

A bipartisan Senate group working on Russia sanctions legislation is hitting final sticking points as negotiators work to try to quickly finalize an agreement. 

Senators involved in the talks pointed to two unresolved areas as of Tuesday: Sanctions related to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will carry gas from Russia to Germany, and the timing of when the sanctions would kick in, with Republicans eager for some penalties to be implemented before a potential Russian incursion into Ukraine.

“We are in the midst of finalizing two pockets of things — one is Nord Stream 2 related sanctions and pre-invasion sanctions, and we keep working to fine tune that to get to common ground. I think we can and will,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) added that there was “still some disagreement over timing” but “a lot of consensus” on the “scale and scope” of the bill.

He suggested a “central issue” remains whether sanctions would be applied “as a result of some specific action,” like an invasion of Ukraine, and said he didn’t think Democrats had moved on applying immediate sanctions over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Menendez previously introduced legislation that would impose sanctions targeting Russian officials and financial institutions if Biden determined Russia had invaded or had a significant “escalation of hostilities” against Ukraine.

That measure would also require Biden to identify and sanction other sectors of the Russian economy if he determines doing so is in the interest of U.S. national security. 

The bill further authorizes sanctions on companies in Russia that offer secure messaging systems, including SWIFT, the international system by which banks communicate, and includes additional security assistance and provisions to help Ukraine push back against Russian disinformation.

But Republicans want at least some of the sanctions to be imposed on Moscow as soon as the bill is signed into law, and it’s been a rolling part of the Senate negotiations.

Menendez previously pointed to sanctions tied to Russian cyberattacks — so-called “false flag” operations and efforts to undermine the Ukrainian government — as areas that could be ripe for immediate sanctions, with more sweeping penalties kicking in if Russia invades Ukraine.

He acknowledged on Tuesday that the administration was “not enthralled with the idea” of including sanctions in the deal that would be applied to Russia automatically instead of tying it to an invasion of Ukraine, where Moscow has amassed an estimated 100,000 troops along the border. Democrats have argued that tying the sanctions to military action by Russia could be used to try to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline has also been a running point of contention. Senate Democrats recently blocked legislation from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that would have slapped sanctions on businesses related to the pipeline and let Congress force a vote on reinstating the penalties if Biden waived them.  

“It’s 95 percent done, but it’s always the last 5 percent that are the toughest. I think there’s still questions about the Nord Stream 2 language and the balance of sanctions applied immediately versus sanctions to be applied after an invasion,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has been involved in the talks.

Murphy added that he agreed with the White House that the deal should “load up the sanctions” to kick in if Russia invades Ukraine, but that he believed “some small amount of sanction applied today.” 

Tags Bob Menendez Chris Murphy Marco Rubio Nord Stream 2 Robert Menendez Russia sanctions Russia-Ukraine conflict Ted Cruz US-Russia relations Vladimir Putin
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