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Senators move closer to deal on Russian sanctions bill

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds his annual press conference at the Manezh exhibition hall in central Moscow on Dec. 23, 2021. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

U.S. senators are close to agreeing on a Russia sanctions bill that could include penalties even if President Vladimir Putin doesn’t send troops into Ukraine, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said.

Lawmakers will be briefed this week by Biden administration officials, including military leaders, on the standoff over Ukraine, according to people familiar with the matter. Separate classified briefings are planned on Thursday for the full Senate, followed by the full House of Representatives.

The officials will include Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, one of the people said. Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had asked for the briefings this month.

Menendez said earlier Sunday that the draft legislation envisages some sanctions “up front” to punish Russia’s cyberattacks on Ukraine, “false-flag operations” and efforts to undermine Ukraine’s government.

A Russian invasion “later on” would trigger “devastating sanctions that ultimately would crush Russia’s economy,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Russia has denied it plans to further invade Ukraine.

The comments suggest the Senate is closing in on a deal that includes the threat of hard-hitting measures against Russia’s financial industry and personal sanctions on top officials.

The White House hasn’t taken a position on the possible deal. A State Department official stopped short of endorsing the bill, saying deterrence works best when there’s an element of surprise behind the range of options the Biden administration is considering.

“So we’ve said financial measures, we’ve said export controls, we’ve said new sanctions on Russian elites,” Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “But if we put them on the table now, then Russia will be able to start mitigating and that doesn’t make any sense to us.

“We are working intensively with the Congress on this piece of legislation that we expect will be very well aligned with what we are also building with our NATO allies and partners,” she said.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on “Fox News Sunday” that “one of the things about sanctions is once you trip that, then the deterrent effect is lost.”

While the U.S. and its allies have promised “massive sanctions” if Russia sends troops into Ukraine, there has been disagreement behind the scenes over how to respond, particularly to a Russian action short of full-blown war.

Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the committee, told CNN that while there are details to be ironed out, the two sides are working together to convey a message to Putin.

“We are on the one-yard line,” said Menendez. “I believe that we will get there. We have been working in good faith, we have been accommodating different views and we are committed jointly, in a bipartisan way, to defend Ukraine and to send Putin a message.”

“There’s been a 24-hour-a-day effort for the last several days,” Risch said.


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