© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Russian and American flags are pictured before negotiations between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and US Deputy Foreign Minister Wendy Sherman at the US Mission in Geneva, Switzerland January 10, 2022. REUTERS / Denis Balibo
By Doina Chiacu
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators are very close to reaching an agreement on legislation that sanctions Russia over its actions against Ukraine, including some measures that could take effect before any invasion, two leading senators said Sunday.
Senators Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and James Risch, its top Republicans, hoped to move forward with the bill this week.
“I would describe it as being on the one-yard line,” Menendez said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” using a reference to American football that means very close to the goal.
There is a strong bipartisan decision to support Ukraine and punish Russia if it invades Ukraine, Menendez said. Asked if an agreement will be reached this week, he said: “I believe we will get there.”
Senior officials in the Biden administration will hold a secret briefing for all U.S. senators on Thursday, a Senate assistant said. Congress leaders had requested a briefing on the situation.
Russia has been building its forces on Ukraine’s borders for several months, demanding that NATO withdraw troops and weapons from Eastern Europe and prevent the former Soviet state from ever joining the US-led military alliance.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy supports immediate action and has criticized the West for waiting to impose more damaging sanctions.
The Senate bill will target the main Russian banks and Russian government debt as well as provide more US military assistance to Ukraine.
Some of the sanctions in the bill could take effect before any invasion because of what Russia has already done, Menendez said, including cyberattacks on Ukraine, false flag operations and efforts to undermine the Ukrainian government internally.
More crushing sanctions would follow if Russia invaded, he said, “but the deadly aid would travel no matter what.”
There are still areas of disagreement between senators from the two parties, particularly over whether to impose sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
“We’re working on it. I think it’s going to be the last T-junction, I-dot, before we put them all across the finish line,” Risch said.
Ukraine is asking for both action – sanctions right now and more after any invasion, said Kiev’s ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, on CBS ‘”Face the Nation”.
Markarova downplayed the smoldering tensions uncovered on Friday as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused the United States of panicking over a possible Russian invasion.
“There is no friction,” she said. “We may have different opinions”, but the United States is Ukraine’s strategic partner and friend and relations are at their highest level in decades.
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