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A Ukraine divide: Congress, world leaders debate how to counter Russia
Question of the Day
President Obama will try to forge a consensus on Ukraine when he meets this week with top allies in Europe, but he has had trouble winning unity even back home, where Democrats and Republicans are sparring over the outlines of U.S. policy, including military and financial aid.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress agree on the need to pass legislation showing a unified front against Russian President Vladimir Putin, and party leaders generally concur on the outlines, but add-ons and tangential fights have left them gridlocked.
Mr. Obama is under increasing bipartisan pressure to deliver military aid to Ukraine’s nascent government. His advisers are saying only that the president is considering such a step.
“I think we could do more in terms of communications equipment that we can help them with, technical assistance. In addition to that, they’ve put in a request for us in NATO for some small arms,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican who is traveling in Ukraine, told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I think there are some things that we could do that don’t involve our boots on the ground but really help them also stand up and help their military really at this time.”
Tensions remain high in Ukraine, where an air force commander was detained after his base in Crimea, which Russia annexed last week, was stormed by pro-Russian forces, according to an Associated Press report. In Donetsk, the principal city in the pro-Russian Donbass area of eastern Ukraine, about 5,000 people demonstrated Sunday in favor of a referendum on secession and absorption into Russia — the same scenario this month in Crimea.
With that backdrop, senators will hold a first test vote Monday evening on a plan that would extend loan guarantees to Ukraine, push for broader sanctions against Russia and increase the quota of U.S. aid to the International Monetary Fund.
But the House has overwhelmingly passed a bill that just involves $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees. Republican leaders are hoping to push through another bill this week that would codify existing sanctions, push Mr. Obama to sanction others, boost American radio broadcasting into the region and require more scrutiny of Russian financial institutions.
“The U.S. and our European friends should be bolstering the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. That means aiding Ukraine’s fledgling democracy, with its May elections looming, and bolstering its economy, including by helping break Putin’s energy grip over Eastern Europe,” said Rep. Edward R. Royce, California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which will vote Tuesday on the bill.
The key sticking point is the IMF quota.
Republicans contend it is a separate issue, and they fought it out in January when Mr. Obama last tried to increase the quota. At that point, Republicans insisted that the IMF quota be tied to a halt in Mr. Obama’s proposal to have the Internal Revenue Service crack down on nonprofit groups in the U.S. that want to spend money on issue advertising.
In January, both sides agreed to a truce. That now has ended.
The issue splits Republicans deeply.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who was the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, mercilessly mocked his colleagues two weeks ago when the Senate adjourned without passing the bill. Mr. McCain said he may not like the IMF changes but holding up the bill was a disservice to Ukraine.
“I have been embarrassed before on the floor of the Senate,” he said. “But I have not been embarrassed this way about members of my own party.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and a potential 2016 presidential candidate, also said his colleagues should drop the IMF fight and pass the bill.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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