WASHINGTON— As diplomatic efforts continue in hopes of containing the crisis in Ukraine, the U.S. Congress is expected to finalize an aid package for Kyiv and sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea. A bill likely will go to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature Tuesday.
As Russian forces mass along Ukraine’s southern and eastern borders, the U.S. House of Representatives is preparing to give Congress’ final approval to $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine and economic penalties against Russian officials. House Speaker John Boehner spoke about the urgency of the effort.
“Our goal is to work together and to get this bill done as quickly as possible,” said Boehner.
Debate in both houses of Congress has featured some of the fiercest rhetoric aimed at Russia since the Cold War. Republican Senator John McCain compared Russia's territorial expansion under President Vladimir Putin to that of Germany under Adolph Hitler.
“It is obvious, with his troops massed on the borders of eastern Ukraine, [President Putin] is contemplating further action. Whether he does so or not, I am not sure. But I think his calculation has got to do with the cost-benefit ratio of further aggression against a sovereign nation,” said McCain.
Although it has taken lawmakers several weeks to settle on exact measures to back Kyiv and punish Moscow, their desire to act was never in doubt. Democratic Senator Robert Menendez said this is not a time to stand by idly.
“The world is watching, and the world's superpower cannot be seen as incapable of rising to Russia's challenge,” said Menendez.
Russia has both condemned and downplayed the significance of international sanctions. While pursuing a diplomatic track to contain the crisis, the Obama administration says Moscow must pay a price for its actions.
“The sanctions that the United States and the European Union have imposed will continue to grow if Russia does not change course. But as I said…, we are continually hopeful that Russia wants to walk through the door of diplomacy and works with all of us to try to resolve this issue in a peaceful way,” said Obama after meeting with European leader in Brussels last week.
But Russia rejects calls for Crimea to be returned to Ukraine. Russia’s ambassador in Washington, Sergey Kislyak. Speaking on ABC’s This Week, he declared that “Crimea is part of the Russian Federation.”
Asked if Russia will seize more Ukrainian territory, the ambassador said, “We are not planning to.