The Obama administration has begun to show how it’s going to respond to the crisis in Eastern Europe: aid to Ukraine, and sanctions on Russia.
As Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Ukraine, the White House announced an aid package of $1 billion in loan guarantees to the nation, meant to help Ukrainians suffering from reduced energy subsidies. Additionally, the U.S. is offering technical assistance with elections, and to combat corruption and recover stolen assets.
The State Department began preparing sanctions Monday that it would enact if Russia continued its aggression in Ukraine, spokesman Jen Psaki told reporters. Those sanctions could be levied on top-ranking Russian officials.
President Obama likely won’t face much opposition to sanctions in Congress. Key members of Congress have signaled that they support sanctions on Russia and aid to Ukraine. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez said his committee is preparing a $1 billion aid package. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said “the House will review how we can expeditiously consider assistance to Ukraine in the form of loan guarantees.” He added that the House will see what it can do it provide additional sanctions on top Russian officials, similar to the Magnitsky Act, which bans travel and freezes certain assets of Russian human rights violators.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Congress is going to be ” very bullish on doing what we need to do to make … Putin feel the heat.”
There is concern, though, that American sanctions without European backing won’t do much to sway Russian President Vladimir Putin, particularly since Russia accounts for less than 2 percent of American trade. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a key figure in the European Union, appears to favor international monitors and direct talks over sanctions on Russia.
Putin argued at a Tuesday press conference that an “unconstitutional coup” meant Russia reserved the right to use force as “a last resort.” He also didn’t sound worried about sanctions.
“All threats against Russia are counterproductive and harmful,” Putin told reporters.