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Max Vetrov | AP
Russian soldiers guard the center of Simferopol, Crimea, on Thursday.

Senate, House back bills to aid Ukraine

WASHINGTON – Congress spoke with one voice Thursday against Russia’s annexation of Crimea, passing legislation in the House and Senate giving help to cash-strapped Ukraine and imposing sanctions against Russia.

The Senate approved the legislation by voice vote at the same time the House was passing a different version on a 399-19 vote.

The votes were a show of solidarity with President Barack Obama, who had already announced sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and others. The president spent several days rallying U.S. allies to stand firm against Putin’s aggression.

Lawmakers intended to get a final measure to the White House by day’s end.

Each bill would provide $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine and impose penalties on Russia for its aggression.

“President Putin is watching ... waiting to see if we have the resolve to act,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Menendez said the Senate bill would provide $1 billion in loan guarantees to help stabilize Ukraine’s economy and would authorize assistance for democracy, governance and civil society programs and enhanced security cooperation. It also would provide support for the Ukrainian government to help recover assets linked to corruption by former Ukraine government officials.

The measure also would sanction those who are responsible for human rights abuses against anti-government protesters and those responsible for undermining the peace and sovereignty of the Ukraine.

Targeting Russia, the bill also would freeze assets and revoke visas of Russian officials and their associates who are complicit in or responsible for significant corruption in Ukraine.

“Putin’s cronies should recognize that Putin may not be the right horse to be betting on any longer,” Menendez said.

The Senate bill authorizes $50 million in assistance to Ukraine for such things as improving democratic governance and anti-corruption efforts; supporting free and fair elections in Ukraine; and bolstering democratic institutions and civil society organizations.

The bill authorizes an additional $100 million to enhance security cooperation among the United States, European Union and countries in central and eastern Europe and further authorizes the president to provide defense articles and services, and additional security assistance to Ukraine and countries in the region.

Swift approval of the legislation came after Senate Democrats backed down and stripped International Monetary Fund reform language from the bill. The move signaled a retreat for Democrats and the Obama administration, which had promoted the IMF provisions.

But with tens of thousands of Russian troops amassed on Ukraine’s eastern border, Senate Democrats decided it was more important to denounce Russia, codify sanctions against Putin’s inner circle and support Ukraine rather than push now for the IMF changes.

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