Lawmakers press Obama to back Russian sanctions

2014-12-16 14:35
US President Barack Obama. (Alain Jocard, AFP)

US President Barack Obama. (Alain Jocard, AFP)

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Washington - Republicans and Democrats spoke with one voice on Monday in pressing President Barack Obama to sign legislation that would slap new sanctions on Russia while providing weapons and other assistance to Ukraine.

The widely popular legislation cleared Congress late on Saturday, but the White House has remained non-committal about whether Obama will sign it into law. Administration officials say the president is evaluating the measure, which would target Russia's energy and defence industries.

The Republican leader of the House, Speaker John Boehner, issued a statement saying the bipartisan bill underscores Congress' "strong moral commitment to the cause of the Ukrainian people" and he called on Obama to sign it immediately.

Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat and chairperson of the Foreign Relations Committee, said lawmakers "stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the Ukrainian government and its people against the aggression of Vladimir Putin who continues to upend the international order."

The legislation would require the president to impose penalties on state-owned arms dealer Rosoboronexport and other Russian defence companies tied to unrest in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Syria. The sanctions would be extended to individuals and entities that help the companies.

The bill also would give the president the authority to provide lethal and non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine. This includes anti-tank weapons, counter-artillery radar and tactical surveillance drones. The bill also authorizes $350m over two years to cover the cost.

Russia annexed Crimea earlier this year and has given support to pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, angering Western nations.

Visiting Nato headquarters in Brussels on Monday, Ukraine's prime minister asked for help for his country's military as it tries to tamp down pro-Russian insurgents and pleaded for more financial aid from the European Union.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk said it was difficult to fight a nuclear Russia that is "armed to the teeth", and he accused Putin of trying to eliminate an independent Ukraine.

"In the face of aggression and intimidation, they have had two successful elections," Boehner said of Ukraine. "In the face of subterfuge, they have shown restraint. And in the face of cynicism from those who are not immediately facing the threat, they have defied expectations."

Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke Monday by phone and together urged Russia to ensure its "separatist proxies" cease blocking humanitarian aid in eastern Ukraine, according to a White House statement. Biden reaffirmed US economic commitments to Ukraine and welcomed its ceasefire declared 9 December, the White House said.

The legislation is a rare example of unanimity in a divided Congress as the measure passed the House and Senate by voice vote. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke to a joint session of Congress in September and was received warmly.

Menendez said: "The territorial integrity of Ukraine must be restored and President Putin must understand that his destabilising actions have serious and profound consequences for his country."

Read more on:    petro poroshenko  |  barack obama  |  us  |  russia  |  ukraine

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