U.S. Republicans offer Russia sanctions bill, after bipartisan talks stall

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) walks through the U.S. Capitol in Washington

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A majority of U.S. Senate Republicans introduced on Tuesday their own legislation to support Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia over a military build-up near Ukraine's borders, after weeks of talks on a bipartisan bill hit a stalemate.

Introduction of the measure, called the Never Yielding Europe's Territory (NYET) Act, does not mean that negotiations have stopped between Republicans and Democrats on a bipartisan Ukraine bill, a senior Republican aide said.

The path forward is not immediately clear for the measure, given Democratic control of the Senate and House of Representatives. The bill would immediately halt construction of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline and impose mandatory sanctions on the project if Russia invaded Ukraine.

It also would impose sanctions on major Russian banks if there were an invasion and secondary sanctions on banks that did business with sanctioned banks.

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blasted the Republican measure as "partisan posturing."

"The latest proposal by Republicans is largely a reflection of what Democrats had already agreed to in our ongoing conversations, building off of the 'mother of all sanctions' we initially proposed," Menendez said in a statement.

Reflecting the partisan inability to agree on a bill, even amid fears of war in Europe, Senate leaders on Tuesday issued a "statement" - which falls short of binding legislation - saying the Senate stands in solidarity with Ukraine and supports sanctions on Russia.

Disagreement over how to handle Nord Stream 2 - which would take gas direct to Germany from Russia, bypassing Ukraine - and secondary sanctions on banks had been two major obstacles to writing a bipartisan bill.

Senators from both parties have said they want to act quickly to help Ukraine, with sanctions on Russia and more military assistance for Kyiv, in what had seemed to be a rare incidence of bipartisan cooperation in a bitterly divided Congress.

A group of about five Democrats and five Republican Senators had been involved in talks on a bill for weeks, but failed to reach an agreement.

The NYET Act was co-sponsored by more than 30 of the 50 Senate Republicans, led by Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has been heavily involved in talks on a bipartisan plan.

A similar bill was introduced on Tuesday by Republicans in the House of Representatives.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Eric Beech and Rosalba O'Brien)