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U.S. senators believe a deal on Russian sanctions might be reached this week

FILE PHOTO: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) listens to Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) prior to a confirmation hearing, Washington, DC, U.S., March 23, 2021. Greg Nash/Pool via REUTERS

Two key senators indicated on Sunday that they are extremely close to reaching an agreement on legislation to censure Russia for its activities in Ukraine, including certain sanctions that might go into force before any invasion.

The news: Senators Bob Menendez, the Democratic head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and James Risch, the senior Republican on the panel, were hoping to move the bill forward this week.

What they said: “I would describe it as that we are on the one-yard line,” Menendez said on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’, using an American football reference meaning very close to the goal.

  • Menendez stated that there is a strong bipartisan commitment to help Ukraine and punish Russia if it invades the country. “I believe that we will get there,” he replied when asked if a deal would be reached this week.
  • According to a Senate staffer, senior Biden administration officials will hold a confidential briefing for all US senators on Thursday. A briefing on the issue had been requested by congressional leaders.

What’s going on: For months, Russia has been bolstering its forces on Ukraine’s borders, demanding that NATO withdraw troops and weaponry from eastern Europe and ban Ukraine from ever joining the US-led military alliance.

  • President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine supports rapid action and has chastised the West for delaying more punitive penalties.
  • The Senate bill would target Russia’s most powerful banks and sovereign debt, as well as increase U.S. military support to Ukraine.

What’s important: Because of what Russia has already done, including cyber-attacks on Ukraine, false flag operations, and efforts to undermine the Ukrainian government internally, some of the penalties in the bill might take effect before any invasion, according to Menendez.

  • More crushing sanctions would follow if Russia invades, he said, “but the lethal aid would travel no matter what.”
  • Senators from both parties continue to dispute on issues such as whether or not to impose penalties on the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline.
  • “We’re working on that. I think that’s going to be the last T-crossed, I-dotted before we put them all across the finish line,” Risch said.   
  • Ukraine is requesting both moves – sanctions now and more after any invasion, according to Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
  • Markarova played down the simmering tensions that were exposed on Friday, when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused the U.S. of fuelling fear of a Russian invasion.
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