US Congress passes bills for Ukraine aid, sanctions
The US Senate and House of Representatives easily passed bills to provide aid to Ukraine, back a $1 billion loan guarantee for the Kiev government and impose sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians over Russia's annexation of Crimea.
The Senate passed its legislation by voice vote and the House voted for its legislation by 399-19, two days after Senate Democrats agreed to remove from the legislation reforms to the International Monetary Fund opposed by many Republicans.
The two chambers will have to agree on how to handle differences between the two pieces of legislation before a final bill can be sent to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it into law.
Senator Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said leaders of the House and Senate had reached an agreement to send the bill to Obama by the end of the week.
Under that deal, the Senate would pass legislation authorizing western news broadcasts into Ukraine and neighboring areas, and the House would consider and pass the Senate bill.
"I expect it (the House vote) before they leave this week," he told a news conference shortly after the Senate vote.
In addition to the loan guarantee, the Senate bill provides $150 million in aid to Ukraine and neighboring countries, and formalizes sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians who the United States says are responsible for corruption, human rights abuses or undermining stability in Ukraine.
Obama announced sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle last week, but congressional approval makes them mandatory. The Senate bill also would impose sanctions on a broader category of individuals than Obama's order.
Lawmakers said they considered the bill only a first step. They said Congress should consider more legislation in the weeks ahead to impose more sanctions to punish Moscow, provide military aid for Ukraine and boost US energy exports to lessen Europe's reliance on Russian natural gas.
"I believe we are in a dangerous moment in history with global consequences and the world is watching," Menendez said.