The House on Tuesday took the last steps needed to send a Ukraine aid package to the White House condemning Russia's annexation of Crimea.
But the long-awaited aid package, which has been in the works for a month, is largely symbolic and not expected to tip the scales or even necessarily maintain the status quo.
The legislation is meant to support Ukraine's new government—it includes $1 billion in loan guarantees and $150 million in direct assistance—as well as send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin to back off by codifying sanctions against his allies.
The House approved the combined aid and sanctions package, which the Senate passed last week, on a vote of 378 to 34. It also approved on a vote of 399 to 12 an additional provision that had been included in previous House legislation, which would authorize increased broadcasting into Ukraine and ethnic Russian communities in support of democracy.
Talks between the U.S. and Russia have failed to produce a resolution to the crisis, and fears that Russia will attempt to seize more territory in the region are still running hot. NATO said Tuesday it was suspending all cooperation with Moscow because it sees no sign that Putin is withdrawing troops from the Ukrainian border.
"It's going to be more psychological than anything else," said Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow with the liberal Center for American Progress. "It shows we are not as dysfunctional as some folks may think we are."
Korb said the message the U.S. is sending to Russia is, "If you even think about the Baltics, that's war, because they are NATO members, and if you continue to do this, there is going to be increasing pressure. At some point you are going to have to make the decision whether it's worth it."
Other defense experts said they were hopeful but not confident the package would help diplomatic efforts.
"In the short term it's not going to have any impact," said Steven Bucci, a director with the conservative Heritage Foundation. "It's not going to cause the Russians to pack up and leave Crimea. Hopefully there will be enough sting in here to at least get Putin's attention and hopefully dissuade him from doing anything further, like going into the rest of eastern Ukraine or going into Moldova, but there's no guarantee of that.… We're not terribly optimistic about this."
This article appears in the April 2, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.