GOP senators: Arm Ukraine, hit Russian banks

GOP senators: Arm Ukraine, hit Russian banks

Saying President Barack Obama hasn’t been tough enough on Russia, a high-powered group of Republican senators introduced legislation on Wednesday aimed at imposing new sanctions on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine.

“Rather than react to events as they unfold, which has been the policy of this administration, we need to inflict more direct consequences on Russia prior to Vladimir Putin taking additional steps that will be very difficult to undo,” said Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top GOP member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who drafted the measure.

The congressional push for a harder line on Russia comes with Obama set to welcome German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of his key partners on Ukraine, to the White House on Friday.

Republican Sen. Dan Coats, a former ambassador to Germany and current Senate Intelligence Committee member, will have dinner with Merkel on Thursday and is expected to press her to get Europe to agree on a tougher response to the crisis.

“The lack of a forceful, effective response by the administration and Western leaders has given Putin little reason to expect that further aggression will be punished,” said Coats, who pressed Obama to back Corker’s bill.

“If he is willing to lead by taking action that demonstrates American disapproval of Russia’s actions, I am confident that a bipartisan majority in Congress will stand with him,” the Indiana lawmaker said.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell backed the bill, as did Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John Cornyn of Texas, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Marco Rubio of Florida, John Hoeven of North Dakota and David Vitter of Louisiana.

The legislation is unlikely to attract support from the Obama administration, which has sent symbolic military support to skittish NATO allies and imposed sanctions on Russian officials and companies but held back on measures expected to damage the economy of Europe, one of Russia’s biggest trading partners.

“We are reserving the most severe sanctions for the potentially most severe action by Russia should Russia chose to engage in it, and the most severe sanctions economically would be sanctioning sectors of the economy,” said Obama spokesman Jay Carney.

U.S. officials have said that Washington and Europe are in talks about how to impose sanctions targeting entire sectors of Russia’s economy if Putin follows up his country's annexation of the strategic Crimean Peninsula by ordering troops into eastern Ukraine.

“There is a conversation about possible counterbalancing and compensatory measures for those states who might have to take it on the chin more if and when sectoral sanctions come on,” one senior official told reporters on a recent conference call.

The bill provides for sharply expanded U.S. and NATO support for the militaries of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, according to a summary provided to Yahoo News.

It also calls for Obama to accelerate and expand American missile defense systems in Eastern Europe — something Russia fiercely opposes.

Notably, the legislation would expand existing economic sanctions by taking aim at four major Russian banks — Sberbank, VTB Bank, VEB Bank and Gazprombank.

And it would for the first time impose sweeping sanctions on Russia’s energy sector, including the giant Gazprom firm, which provides about 30 percent of Europe’s natural gas. Other energy firms in the bill’s cross hairs include Novatek and Rosneft. The large Russian arms export firm Rosoboronexport would also face new sanctions.

If Russian armed forces push into eastern Ukraine, the legislation would “essentially cut all senior Russian officials, their companies, and their supporters off from the world’s financial system,” according to the summary.

“In addition, tough sanctions would target any Russian entities in the arms, defense, energy, financial services, metals, or mining sectors that has ownership by the Russian Government or any other sanctioned individual or entity. Additional sanctions would also cut Russian banks off from the U.S. banking system,” the document said.

The measure calls for $100 million in direct military aid to Ukraine, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and small arms, and urges greater intelligence sharing.

And it would give Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia the status of “major non-NATO ally,” which can facilitate U.S. arms sales.

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