WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed a bill authorizing lethal aid for Ukraine and new sanctions against Russia, sending the measure to President Barack Obama for his signature or veto.
A senior administration official said the White House was aware of the bill, passed late on December 13, and was "looking at it now."
The official added that it was "important that our sanctions regime strikes a delicate balance that maintains a united front with Allies and partners, optimizes costs on Russia, and minimizes the impact on American business, international oil markets and the global economy. We will be evaluating whether the amended legislation enables us to sustain this important approach."
The swift and unanimous passage of the bill could set up a battle between Congress and the president. While the president can waive most of the provisions, the bill is a more robust answer to Russia's aggression in Ukraine than the administration has undertaken thus far.
While the White House has declined to provide lethal aid to Ukraine, the bill authorizes -- but does not technically require -- $350 million of defense articles for Ukraine's military, including antitank and antiarmor weapons, ammunition and surveillance drones. According to the administration, the U.S. government has committed over $118 million in equipment and training for Ukraine's security forces.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on December 15 said the new sanctions against Russia were hostile.
Speaking to Russian news agency Interfax, Lavrov said, "This move by the United States is of course hostile," adding that Obama "now has a choice whether or not to sign this law."
More than 4,700 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine since April in a conflict between government forces and pro-Russian separatists Kyiv and NATO say have direct military support from Russia.
The bill also authorizes sanctions against Russia's defense and energy industries, including the arms exporter Rosoboronexport. The president may waive them for national security reasons.
It also allows Obama to sanction Gazprom, a state-controlled Russian energy giant, if he determines that it is withholding gas from a NATO state or Ukraine, Moldova, or Georgia.
Identical texts of the bill passed the U.S. Senate and House on December 11, but because of a loan-guarantee provision, the U.S. Senate had to vote on it again.
The legislation has been harshly criticized by Russian government officials.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the bill was another "manifestation of anti-Russian sentiments." He warned that Russia "will not be able to leave this without a response."
A provision granting major non-NATO ally status to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine was removed from the bill.
The bill also authorizes $50 million for three years to address Ukraine's energy shortage.
It grants an additional $10 million per year for Voice of America and RFE/RL to expand broadcasting in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia to counter Russian "propaganda."
It would allocate $20 million per year for three years for Russian democracy and civil-society organizations.