Hours after the world's leading industrial powers moved to punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea, the U.S. Senate advanced a bill to provide economic aid to Ukraine and sanction Moscow, the VOA reported. The Senate voted 78-17 to begin debate on the bill, which is expected to pass in coming days but would have to be reconciled with legislation in the House of Representatives.
The Senate bill authorizes loan guarantees for Ukraine, codifies economic penalties for Russian officials and shifts America's contributions to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in a way that could facilitate additional loans to Kyiv.
Republican Senator Dan Coats, who is banned from traveling to Russia after retaliatory sanctions announced by Moscow last week, says the United States and its allies cannot be passive in the face of Russian aggression.
"We and our European allies must recognize the enormity of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's crime, as he rejects all modern standards of responsible international behavior and tramples on the sanctity or the territorial borders so vital to the stability of the post-[Cold] War order. The international response must be much more vigorous," said Coats.
Another Senator banned from traveling to Russia, Republican John McCain, urged what he termed "defensive" U.S. military aid for Ukraine. McCain returned last week from a trip to Kyiv. He was accompanied by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who said Ukrainians are looking to the United States for leadership.
"I can tell you, they are awaiting a very strong signal of support from the United States Congress that will send a message that we are going to stand together with our Ukrainian brothers and sisters as they engage in this epic battle for their independence, for their freedom, and for their sovereignty," said Murphy.
A few Republicans object to the IMF reform, alleging it will impose additional costs on U.S. taxpayers. That provision is absent from a Ukraine aid package that passed the Republican-led House of Representatives earlier this month. Assuming the Democratically-controlled Senate bill is approved, it is unclear whether the House will consider passing IMF reform separately. Both houses of Congress would have to pass identical measures for the bill to go to the White House for President Barack Obama's signature.