Created on Thursday, 27 March 2014 Written by DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress spoke with one voice on Thursday against Russia's annexation of Crimea, passing legislation in the House and Senate giving help to cash-strapped Ukraine and imposing sanctions against Russia.
The Senate approved the legislation by voice vote at the same time the House was passing a different version on a 399-19 vote.
The votes were a show of solidarity with President Barack Obama, who had already announced sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and others. The president spent several days rallying U.S. allies to stand firm against Putin's aggression.
Lawmakers intended to get a final measure to the White House by day's end.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the votes were "critical for President Putin to hear."
"We are in a dangerous moment in history with global consequences and the world is watching," he said.
Menendez said the Senate bill would provide $1 billion in loan guarantees to help stabilize Ukraine's economy and would authorize assistance for democracy, governance and civil society programs and enhanced security cooperation. It also would provide support for the Ukrainian government to help recover assets linked to corruption by former Ukraine government officials.
The measure also would sanction those who are responsible for human rights abuses against anti-government protesters and those responsible for undermining the peace and sovereignty of the Ukraine.
Targeting Russia, the bill also would freeze assets and revoke visas of Russian officials and their associates who are complicit in or responsible for significant corruption in Ukraine.
"Putin's cronies should recognize that Putin may not be the right horse to be betting on any longer," Menendez said.
The Senate bill authorizes $50 million in assistance to Ukraine for such things as improving democratic governance and anti-corruption efforts; supporting free and fair elections in Ukraine; and bolstering democratic institutions and civil society organizations.
The bill authorizes an additional $100 million to enhance security cooperation among the United States, European Union and countries in central and eastern Europe and further authorizes the president to provide defense articles and services, and additional security assistance to Ukraine and countries in the region.
Ukraine, a nation of 46 million people, is battling to install a semblance of normalcy since Ukraine's pro-Russia president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted in February after months of protests ignited by his decision to back away from closer relations with the EU and turn toward Russia.
During the past few weeks, an interim government has formed, Ukraine lost Crimea to Russia and further possible military incursions by Russia are feared. The country is also bracing for a turbulent political season ahead of the upcoming presidential vote.
Ukraine's Finance Ministry has said it needs $35 billion over the next two years to avoid default.
Asked if the $1 billion in loan guarantees that Congress was pledging was enough, Menendez noted that the U.S. was the largest contributor to the International Monetary Fund, which in a separate move on Thursday pledged up to $18 billion in loans to prop up Ukraine's teetering economy. The money is hinged on structural reforms that Ukraine has pledged to undertake.
Other donors, including the European Union and Japan, have already pledged further aid to Ukraine, conditional on the conclusion of an IMF bailout and reform package. The total amount of international assistance will be about $27 billion over the next two years.
Separately, the 28-nation EU has prepared a wider aid package including loans and grants for Ukraine expected to total more than $10 billion over the coming years.
Taken together, all the assistance is in the "ballpark of what we need," Menendez said.
Swift approval of the legislation came after Senate Democrats backed down and stripped International Monetary Fund reform language from the bill. The move signaled a retreat for Democrats and the Obama administration, which had promoted the IMF provisions.
But with tens of thousands of Russian troops amassed on Ukraine's eastern border, Senate Democrats decided it was more important to denounce Russia, codify sanctions against Putin's inner circle and support Ukraine rather than push now for the IMF changes.