Senate Democrats, with White House backing, unveil Russia sanctions bill
Wednesday, 12 January, 2022, 18:18
Senior Democratic senators on Wednesday will unveil a fresh package of sanctions to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin if he invades Ukraine, an effort backed by the White House as the administration seeks to tamp down defections on a competing measure targeting Moscow set for a closely watched Senate vote this week. The effort, led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), gives an effective off-ramp for Democrats who have publicly wavered on whether to vote in favor of a bill that would reprimand Russia over Nord Stream 2, a Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline that has become enmeshed in a political fight in Washington. The vote on that bill, drafted by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), is happening only as part of a deal hammered out last month that unlocked confirmations for a slew of ambassador picks in exchange for a vote on blocking the nearly finished Nord Stream 2, which critics say could significantly expand Putin’s influence over Western Europe by making the region more reliant on Russian energy resources.But because senators have broadly supported sanctions against Moscow in the past, it risked a potentially embarrassing defeat for the Biden administration, particularly at a time when it is engaging in sensitive diplomatic talks abroad to halt a potential invasion further into Eastern Europe.In a statement Wednesday, Menendez said the punishments laid out in his bill “makes it absolutely clear that the U.S. Senate will not stand idly by as the Kremlin threatens a re-invasion of Ukraine.” Menendez said the legislation sends a clear message to Russia: “Putin need not collapse his entire economy nor does he need to sacrifice the lives of his own people in a futile attempt to rewrite the map of Europe.” The legislation, obtained by The Washington Post in advance of its release, would impose sweeping sanctions on top Russian military and government officials, including Putin and other leaders, as well as key banking institutions, if Moscow engages in hostilities against Ukraine. It would also target companies in Russia that offer secure messaging systems such as SWIFT, which banks use to exchange key information with other financial institutions.It also includes provisions to help bolster Ukraine’s security. Calling Nord Stream 2 a “tool of malign influence of the Russian Federation,” the legislation encourages the United States to “consider all available and appropriate measures” to ensure the pipeline doesn’t get up and running.