CAPITOL HILL —
The U.S. Congress has spoken loudly to condemn Russia’s annexation of Crimea and underscore America’s support for Ukraine. The House and Senate on Thursday passed similar bills providing aid to Ukraine and sanctioning Russia. Final congressional approval could come on Friday.
America’s politically divided legislature rarely acts in concert or speaks so clearly as lawmakers did in passing separate bills with loan guarantees for Ukraine and economic penalties against Russia.
Democratic Representative Eliot Engel said the United States stands firmly with the people of Ukraine after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
“You know, if we continue to work with Ukraine and continue to help Ukraine and turn them westward rather than eastward, then [Russian President Vladmir] Putin will have lost. He may have a land grab in Crimea, but he will lose the rest of Ukraine,” said Engel.
That sentiment was echoed on the Senate side by Majority Leader Harry Reid, who said Russian President Vladimir Putin is stuck in the mind-set of the bygone Soviet era.
“This bill is a reality check to him that the United States will not stand idly by while Russia plays the role of a schoolyard bully,” said Reid.
Floor debate in both chambers featured some of the fiercest rhetoric aimed at Russia since the Cold War. Republican Senator John McCain said Moscow’s justification for annexing Crimea sounds “eerily familiar” to Nazi Germany’s pretexts for territorial expansion to protect German-speaking populations in Eastern Europe in the late 1930s.
“I am not predicting we will have a World War III. I am predicting that, unless we act and act vigorously, Vladimir Putin will be dramatically encouraged to take further aggressive actions, whether it be in eastern Ukraine, Moldova, the Baltic countries,” said McCain.
The two bills passed their respective chambers with overwhelming support. Both include $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine and penalties against Russian officials. The House bill boosts funding for U.S. international broadcasting services to Eastern Europe, including the Voice of America.
The House and Senate must pass identical versions for a bill to clear Congress and go to the White House to be signed into law by President Barack Obama. Precisely how that might happen was unclear late Thursday, but leaders in both chambers have stated their commitment to see a final bill pass Congress by week’s end.