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Eight senators revive Russia sanctions push as Ukraine invasion fears mount

POLITICO logo POLITICO 1/24/2022 By Alexander Ward and Andrew Desiderio
a statue in front of a building: An exterior view of the U.S. Capitol building. © Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images An exterior view of the U.S. Capitol building.

Eight senators from both parties met Monday evening to hammer out a Russia sanctions bill that would bolster U.S. efforts to deter Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine, multiple people familiar with the discussion told POLITICO.

The preliminary talks between the four Democrats and four Republicans revolve around Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez’s (D-N.J.) “mother of all sanctions” legislation, which as written authorizes a slate of harsh financial penalties that would kick in only after any Russian invasion of Ukraine. The bill mirrors the Biden administration’s approach thus far to the worsening crisis facing Ukraine and its western allies.

But Republicans supportive of sanctioning Russia want at least some penalties imposed before any invasion –– rather than after the fact, as President Joe Biden's administration currently plans. Republicans’ opposition to the current iteration of Menendez’s bill has forced the Democratic chair to revise the text so that it could win the 10 Republicans needed to overcome a filibuster on the Senate floor.

The bipartisan sanctions meeting, held on Zoom, comes as top Biden administration officials are delivering stark warnings about the potential for a Russian invasion of its neighbor amid growing acknowledgment that an incursion is inevitable absent de-escalation by Putin. The Pentagon announced earlier Monday that around 8,500 U.S. troops are on standby to possibly deploy to Eastern Europe.


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Among the changes under consideration to the stalled Menendez legislation include providing Ukraine with more security and anti-propaganda aid, as well as arming Biden with immediate sanctions authority. The updated bill would also give the president the option to waive the sanctions if the situation called for calming tensions.

However, one person with knowledge of the Zoom chat said nothing was concretely agreed to and additional changes might be made to the measure. The talks, this person stressed, are still in the very early stages.

Still, the goal is that by the end of the week, Menendez and Sens. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) will have come to an agreement on a version that both parties can support.

Portman and Shaheen recently co-led a bipartisan delegation to Ukraine, where they met with the country’s senior leaders.

Menendez previously said in an interview that he wanted to have a consensus sanctions package ready to go by the time the Senate returns to session next week.

The original version of Menendez’s legislation would authorize a slew of biting sanctions on Moscow, including ones targeting Russia’s financial institutions as well as its most senior leaders, namely Putin and his cabinet.

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