Republicans Launch New Push To Arm Ukraine

Senate Republicans are pressing the Obama administration to do more to help Ukraine and hurt Russia and are introducing a new bill that would provide for weapons, sanctions, and more aid.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Nineteen Republican Senators joined together Wednesday to unveil new legislation on Ukraine and Russia Wednesday in an effort to pressure the Obama administration to increase its support for the embattled Ukrainian government and provider harsher sanctions on the Russian government and economy.

The legislation is borne out of increasing GOP frustration with the Obama administration’s policy. It would authorize arms for the Ukrainian armed forces and mandate, with a waiver for the president, more sanctions against Russian officials, banks, and leading companies including Gazprom and Rosnoft. The bill is sponsored by Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and co-sponsored by eighteen other Republicans including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and John McCain.

“There’s a genuine concern about the policy that we have toward Ukraine and Russia and a real concern that if it continues as it is it will increasingly put our country and our world in a more dangerous situation,” Corker, who traveled to Ukraine last week, told The Daily Beast in an interview Wednesday. “It’s a bill to help drive an outcome, that’s its purpose. It’s a bill to try to get the administration to focus on a real strategy and a real policy toward Ukraine, Russia, and Europe.”

If Russia doesn’t stop destabilizing Eastern Ukraine and pull its troops back from the border, the bill would require sanctions on the major Russian corporations of Sberbank, VTB Bank, Vnesheconombank, Gazprombank, Gazprom, Novatek, Rosneft, and Rosboronexport, all of their subsidiaries, and all of their executives. If Putin doesn’t withdraw from Crimea, the bill would mandate the U.S. sanction all Russian officials and agents involved in violating Ukrainian sovereignty, including their close associates and family members.

If Putin actually invades Ukraine, the bill would require drastic sanctions including cutting Russia off from the global financial system, imposing asset blocking and visa bans on all senior Russian officials, the entities they own, asset blocking and visa bans on any Russian entity that operates in the arms, defense, energy, financial services, metals, or mining sectors in Russia and cutting off all Russian financial institutions from the U.S. financial system.

“What we’re saying is that Russia is winning and they don’t have to go into Eastern Ukraine. They can continue doing what they are doing,” said Corker. “We’re going to impose some sectoral sanctions now… we have another level of sanctions that take place if they actually incur inside the country with troops.”

The bill also authorizes President Obama to give Ukraine military assistance including lethal assistance such as “anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and small arms.” The legislation also calls for strengthening U.S. force structure in Europe, bolstering U.S. support for NATO, increasing assistance to Poland and the Baltic States, speeding up U.S. deployment of ballistic missile defense in Europe, and preventing Russia from flying spy planes with updated radar systems over U.S. soil under the Open Skies Treaty.

Administration officials often say they are not contemplating lethal arms for Ukraine because of concern that it would only increase the risks of war with Russia, but Corker said the lack of U.S. help for Ukraine’s beleaguered military actually makes a conflict more likely.

“We’re all concerned that if the president continues on the line he’s laid out, it’s going to lead to some kind of kinetic activity and that’s dangerous,” he said.