WASHINGTON -- U.S. lawmakers have introduced legislation that would impose tougher punitive measures against Russia over its actions in Ukraine, including sanctions on leading Russian banks, energy firms and weapons manufacturers.
A group of 20 Republican senators are backing the bill, which was introduced April 30 and would impose sanctions on state-owned energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft, state arms manufacturer Rosoboroneksport, and leading lenders Sberbank, VTB, VEB, and Gazprombank.
The legislation, which was introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Corker (Republican-Tennessee) would also require the White House to boost "substantially" U.S. and NATO support for Poland and the Baltic countries.
It also authorizes the U.S. president to provide $100 million of direct military assistance to Ukraine, including antitank and antiaircraft weapons and small arms.
"We've just been deeply disappointed in the rather tepid and ineffective response to the Russian aggression," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican-Kentucky) told a news conference.
The bill also calls for sanctions on more Russian officials should Moscow fail to relinquish control of Ukraine’s Crimea territory, which the Kremlin annexed last month.
Senator Kelly Ayotte (Republican-New Hampshire) told reporters on April 30 that Russian President Vladimir Putin himself could be sanctioned under the legislation.
The legislative initiative follows the Obama administration’s announcement this week that it had imposed a fresh round of asset freezes and U.S. visa bans on several top Russian officials, including Igor Sechin, the president of state-owned oil major Rosneft and a close confidant of Putin's.
Republican lawmakers, however, have called for harsher measures, including sanctions against companies like Gazprom, the world’s largest gas company and a crucial driver of the Russian economy.
The Republican-backed bill would have to make it through Democrats who control the Senate and who generally defer to U.S. President Barack Obama on foreign-policy matters.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, in response to a question about the bill, defended the administration position. "On the matter of further sanctions, our view has always been that the right course of action, working in concert with our partners, is to escalate sanctions in response to escalation by Russia, making clear that those further costs await Russia if Russia chooses not to avail itself of a path towards a diplomatic resolution and de-escalation of the tensions in Ukraine," he said.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide slammed the bill as "irresponsible." "We have a history of working in a bipartisan way on these types of crisis, including most recently when we passed our sanctions bill and the loan guarantees for Ukraine. We’re disappointed that the Republicans would try to turn a key national security issue into a partisan debate. It’s an irresponsible bill," said the aide.
Corker dismissed the notion that the bill's introduction was driven by partisan politics. "We purposefully crafted this legislation as if we were sitting in the White House trying to make decisions...not as something that is partisan," he said. "We should be able to attract Democrats to support if not all of it, most of it."
One senior Democrat in the Senate, however, told RFE/RL that he would not back the bill because he is supportive of Obama’s approach. "We all think we can toughen these sanctions and make them more difficult," Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland said. "I think that we need a quarterback, and the quarterback is the president to make the judgments as to which sanctions.... To try to legislate on this would be very difficult."
Biden: Russia Could Face 'Growing Costs'
In related news, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden says Russia should respect the international order, otherwise it could face "growing costs" and "growing isolation".
Biden made the remarks in a speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington on April 30.
He said Russia's integration into the international order remained in everyone's interests.
But Biden said if Russia wanted to benefit from the international order it had to respect that order and abide by the rules.
The United States has repeatedly called on Russia to change course in Ukraine and de-escalate the tensions.
In his speech, Biden also said that U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Poland in June, adding the stop to a European trip that will also take him to a G7 summit in Brussels and to France for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
With additional reporting by Golnaz Esfandiari