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What Congress Can Do About Russia What Congress Can Do About Russia

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Congress

What Congress Can Do About Russia

Lawmakers weigh everything from sanctions to aid in response to Ukraine invasion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin(Alexey Nikolsky/AFP/GettyImages)

photo of Elahe Izadi
March 3, 2014

As the crisis in Ukraine continues to escalate and U.S. officials issue sharp words for Russian President Vladimir Putin, some members of Congress are laying down markers for what they want to do next. Here's a roundup of what they're saying:

New Economic Sanctions

Congress has long been a fan of passing economic sanctions as a way to influence U.S. foreign policy. Senators, such as Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy and the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, are calling for just that. "The United States and our European allies should immediately bring to bear all elements of our collective economic strength to stop Russian advances in Ukraine," Corker said in a statement. "Congress will consider targeted sanctions against Russian persons and entities that undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine."

Unlike a proposed set of sanctions against Iran, which has received a lot of pushback from the White House, the administration hasn't issued any veto threats or harsh words to Congress, urging it not to pass sanctions against Russia. Senior officials told The Wall Street Journal that the administration has begun discussions with Congress about potential economic and financial sanctions on specific Russian companies and leaders.

 

Expanding the "Magnitsky List"

The new targeted sanctions that some want could also come in the form of expanding a round of sanctions already in place. The Magnitsky Act bans U.S. travel and freezes American bank accounts of certain Russian human-rights violators.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wants the administration to add more Russian officials to the Magnitsky list. It's something that Sen. John McCain also backs.

"Living in Miami, I have seen in recent years the wave of Russian tourists coming to our city and state to spend money and buy property," Rubio said in a Politico Magazine op-ed. "Many are government officials or allies whose wealth stems from allegiance to Putin, and we should limit their ability to travel here."

Some top-ranking members pushed the Obama administration to add additional names earlier this year. The initial 2012 passage of Magnitsky spurred a blowback from Russia in the form of a ban on Americans adopting Russian children.

International Observers

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin said that one of the first steps the U.S. and allies could take is to "place a significant number of international observers on the ground in Ukraine, if requested by the Ukrainian government."

"The presence of international observers on the ground could reduce the risk that Russia would make a false claim of provocative acts by Ukraine as an excuse for further violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, and thereby help avoid a conflict that nobody should want," the Michigan Democrat said in a statement.

Aid to Ukraine

Many Republicans and Democrats want to see more aid going to Ukraine right now. The top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, is pushing for "a robust international economic assistance package and the administration's proposal to provide U.S. loan guarantees and other assistance to Ukraine."

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also endorsed loan guarantees to Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry has already pledged that the U.S. will provide $1 billion in such loan guarantees, which could come with even more aid after consultation with Congress.

Don't Respond Militarily

Unlike in recent crises, such as in Syria, no members are calling for the U.S. to use military force in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

"We do not seek confrontation with President Putin and his government, but simply [want] to ensure that Russia abides by its commitments and adheres to core principles of international law," a bipartisan group of senators who sit on the Foreign Relations Committee wrote in a letter to Obama.

Even hawkish McCain emphasized, "There is a range of serious options at our disposal at this time without the use of military force."

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