GOP senators unveil Russia sanctions bill as bipartisan talks stall

Greg Nash

Senate Republicans on Tuesday unveiled their own Russia sanctions legislation after bipartisan talks to slap financial penalties on Moscow hit a wall.

The legislation — spearheaded by Sen. James Risch (Idaho), the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee — would slap sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will carry gas from Russia to Germany, and would nix President Biden’s ability to waive the penalties if Russia invades Ukraine.

It would also slap immediate sanctions on Russian banks and Russian officials, includes new financial assistance for Ukraine, speeds up arms sales to Ukraine, gives the Pentagon new funding for military exercises in Europe and boosts funding for combatting Russian disinformation. 

“While a ‘military’ invasion has not yet occurred, there are other ways Russia can attack Ukraine that would be debilitating for Ukrainians and European security more generally,” Risch said in a statement. 

Risch’s legislation — known as the Never Yielding Europe’s Territory, or NYET, Act — comes as the Senate is struggling to reach an agreement on bipartisan sanctions legislation. In addition to Risch, approximately 30 GOP senators are backing the bill. 

Risch and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, have been swapping offers, but senators acknowledged that the talks are running out of time as the Senate prepares to leave for a one-week break. The House, which would also need to pass any legislation, left town last week until Feb. 28. 

There are growing fears that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Monday that the U.S. is shuttering its embassy in Kyiv ahead of a possible invasion, which U.S. officials are warning could happen as soon as this week. 

The Pentagon is looking at getting military aid to Ukrainians via ground delivery to help Kyiv, and the Biden administration announced on Monday that it would offer Ukraine up to $1 billion in loan guarantees. 

But Congress had hoped to pass sanctions legislation before an invasion to try to send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin as he weighs invading Ukraine. 

Menendez previously released a Democratic-only sanctions bill that tied sanctions to an invasion by Russia into Ukraine. But Republicans wanted some of the penalties to be felt immediately, with sanctions related to cyberattacks or efforts to undermine Ukraine as two areas where sanctions could be applied before an invasion.

Senators have been stuck on disagreements related to secondary sanctions on Russia’s banks, which could have broader impacts across Europe, and what to do about Nord Stream 2. 

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, questioned if the White House was pulling Menendez back from the negotiations. 

“The sanctions package, at least the one that was being contemplated by Menendez and Risch, doesn’t look like it is coming together,” Thune said. “It sounds like the White House has sort of pulled Menendez back.”  

Senators could try to pass sanctions legislation once they return to Washington, D.C., after an invasion.  

“If they invade when we’re out [of town], my bill is going to be very, very popular on both sides,” Risch said.  

In addition to sanctions legislation, senators are also working on a non-binding resolution to offer support for Ukraine, which would need buy-in from all 100 senators, or a joint statement from Senate leadership and committee leadership. 

“We are right now in the process of trying to put a bipartisan statement together. [Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] and I are working on this with the chairs and ranking members of relevant committees. And we hope to have that statement very soon, as soon as today,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters. 

Tags Antony Blinken Bob Menendez Charles Schumer Jim Risch Joe Biden John Thune Russia sanctions Senate Senate Republicans Vladimir Putin
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