WASHINGTON — For weeks, as Russian President Vladimir V. Putin signaled he was getting closer to invading Ukraine, members of Congress from both political parties vowed the Senate would pass a “mother” bill. of all sanctions” targeting Moscow that would demonstrate the overwhelming, bipartisan US determination to stand with Kiev against Russian aggression.
But on Thursday night, with the threat of an invasion looming ever larger, senators were able to muster only the legislative equivalent of a letter strongly reprimanded by Mr Putin for a ‘provocative and reckless’ military build-up. on the Ukrainian border, passing a non-binding resolution quickly and without debate before leaving Washington for a week-long break.
Some senators hailed the symbolic action, taken with a voice vote, as proof that the Senate could come together to deliver a strong message of support at a perilous time.
But it was a stark setback, born of deep disagreements between the two sides over when and how to impose sanctions on top Russian officials and banks, and the Biden administration’s resistance to act before the Mr. Putin’s invasion. The result was legislative paralysis on a measure that – at least conceptually – seemed to have had overwhelming support. Few senators had even considered whether approving additional sanctions against Moscow would have a deterrent effect against further Russian incursions into Ukraine.
“Both parties are saying the same thing about wanting the same outcome,” said Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, who negotiated the bill on behalf of his party. . “It’s just, what action gives us this result?”
Republicans and Democrats have argued over this issue for weeks. In January, Democrats thwarted an attempt by Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, to impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2, the Russian gas pipeline, arguing that imposing such measures before an invasion would give up the key influence whose US officials needed in diplomatic talks. with Russia. Insisting on a case presented by the White House, they also said it would alienate Germany as the show of European unity against Moscow’s aggression was crucial. They practically promised to rally around a new sanctions bill.
The measure discussed in recent weeks by Mr. Risch and Sen. Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was meant to be what they called the “mother of all sanctions.” He would have imposed immediate sanctions on Russian officials and entities, and additional sanctions if Mr. Putin invaded.
Understanding Russia’s relationship with the West
Tension between the regions is rising and Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasingly willing to take geopolitical risks and press his demands.
The bill would also have authorized President Biden to use the Lend-Lease Act of 1941 to loan military equipment to Ukraine, in addition to the $2.7 billion in security assistance that the United States United have engaged in Kyiv since 2014.
For weeks, senators used terms such as “fine tuning” and “one-yard line” to describe how close they were to reaching an agreement. Mr. Menendez suggested senators might even overcome White House objections to imposing sanctions before an invasion, a move Republicans had pushed for but the Biden administration had lobbied to avoid.
“They’re not enthralled by the idea,” Mr. Menendez told reporters of the White House. “But I suggested to them that a strong bipartisan response strengthen their hand.”
But ultimately, according to aides familiar with the negotiations, the intractable disagreements that doomed Mr. Cruz’s legislation also grumbled at the bipartisan negotiations. Democrats balked at imposing such broad sanctions before an invasion, amid fierce resistance from the Treasury Department, and Republicans insisted on doing so.
As talks continued without a resolution, prominent supporters of a sanctions package — including Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and Minority Leader — began arguing that Mr. Biden could unilaterally impose sanctions without congressional action.
On Tuesday, in preparation for the upcoming break and the state of decay in negotiations, Senate Republicans unveiled their own sanctions legislation that would also have provided the Ukrainian government with an additional $500 million in military funding.
Mr Menendez denounced the move as “partisan posturing” and said the proposal was “largely a reflection of what Democrats have already agreed to”.
“A partisan victory is not worth a divisive message from Washington, which only benefits Putin,” he said.
Despite partisan wrangling over how best to proceed, there was little disagreement in the Senate on whether additional sanctions could change Mr Putin’s behavior.
Even Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, who has argued that allowing Ukraine to join NATO would strain the US security posture at a time when it should be focused on China, argued. approved the imposition of additional sanctions.
“If they get to a point where their financial system is seriously compromised, I think that will absolutely send a message,” Mr Hawley said in a brief interview. “In the new era we are entering in Europe, we are going to have to do more with less.”
Only Senators Rand Paul, Republican from Kentucky, who has long opposed the use of sanctions, and Bernie Sanders, Independent from Vermont, have publicly opposed the proposed bill.
“Sanctions against Russia that would be imposed as a result of its actions and the threat of Russia’s response to those sanctions could result in massive economic upheaval – with impacts on energy, banking, food and domestic needs. daily lives of ordinary people around the world,” Mr. Sanders said in a speech to the Senate last week.
This argument has also been embraced by some progressives in the House.
A Russian incursion, however, would likely only rally more support to impose sanctions, although the House and Senate are in recess until the last week of February. It would also eliminate the dispute over the sanctions calendar that seems to have paralyzed Senate negotiators: whether to impose sanctions before an invasion.
“I can tell you this,” Mr. Risch said. “If there is an invasion, there will be a lot of support for this bill.”