US Congress passes Ukraine aid, Russian sanctions bill
Congress easily passed a US aid package for Ukraine on Tuesday that includes sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea, in US lawmakers' first binding response to the crisis.
The House of Representatives voted 378 to 34 to approve the bill, which the Senate green-lighted last week, meaning the bill, including $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine, now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
"The US House and Senate stand together in backing the Ukrainian people during this hour of need," House Speaker John Boehner said immediately after the vote, promising to monitor Obama's actions.
"We'll now continue our efforts to ensure he utilizes every tool at his disposal - including re-evaluating security assistance to Ukraine and NATO allies and expanding America's vast energy supplies -- to undermine Russia's stranglehold on Europe."
Obama welcomed the passage of a bill that will provide Ukraine with "essential steps to restore economic stability and return to growth and prosperity," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
He added that the administration also "supports the targeted sanctions authority provided in the bill to impose costs on individuals and entities who are responsible for acts of violence against the Ukrainian people or are undermining Ukraine's peace, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity."
The legislation provides for $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine as well as $150 million for improved governance and enhanced security cooperation there.
It penalizes individuals linked to Russia's annexation of Crimea and the deadly crackdown on protesters in Kiev by Ukraine's ousted pro-Russian regime, and gives Obama flexibility in imposing sanctions.
There had been little doubt as to whether Congress was committed to helping Kiev and sanctioning Russia.
But a hurdle emerged when the White House and Senate Democratic leaders hoped to include a provision that changes the way the International Monetary Fund provides emergency moneys to crisis-hit nations such as Ukraine.
Several Republicans including Boehner objected to the move, and Democratic leadership relented by stripping out the IMF language.
In the aftermath of Moscow heaping pressure on Ukraine's teetering economy by hiking gas prices, House Foreign Affairs chairman Ed Royce said more must be done to "remove this weapon from Russia's arsenal," including by boosting US energy exports.
"The greatly enhanced supply of oil and natural gas added to the world market will undermine Russia's stranglehold on other countries and reduce the revenues that comprise over half of Moscow's budget," Royce told the House.
"That would get Putin's attention, imposing a cost for aggression."
© 2014 AFP