(Adds quotes from lawmakers, background, details on IMF)
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, March 27 The U.S. Senate and House
of Representatives easily passed bills on Thursday to provide
aid to Ukraine, back a $1 billion loan guarantee for the Kiev
government and impose sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians over
Russia's annexation of Crimea.
The Senate passed its legislation by voice vote and the
House voted for its legislation by 399-19, two days after Senate
Democrats ended a weeks-long standoff by agreeing to remove from
the legislation reforms to the International Monetary Fund urged
by the White House but opposed by many Republicans.
Lawmakers said they wanted to send a unified message to
Russian President Vladimir Putin - and the rest of the world -
as Ukraine and neighboring states worry about more aggression
"I believe we are in a dangerous moment in history with
global consequences and the world is watching," Robert Menendez,
chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told a news
conference shortly after the Senate vote.
President Barack Obama has been in Europe this week urging
U.S. allies to stand together to counterbalance Moscow.
The Senate and House will have to agree on how to handle
differences between the two pieces of legislation before a final
bill can be sent to Obama, who is expected to sign it into law.
Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said congressional leaders
had reached an agreement under which the House will vote on the
Senate bill and it would get to Obama by the end of the week.
In addition to the loan guarantee, the Senate bill provides
$150 million in aid to Ukraine and neighboring countries, and
formalizes sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians who the United
States deems responsible for corruption, human rights abuses or
undermining stability in Ukraine.
Obama announced sanctions against Russian President Vladimir
Putin's inner circle last week, but congressional approval makes
them mandatory. The Senate bill also would impose sanctions on a
broader category of individuals than Obama's order.
Lawmakers said they considered the bill only a first step.
They said Congress should consider more legislation in the weeks
ahead to impose more sanctions to punish Moscow, provide
military aid for Ukraine and boost U.S. energy exports to lessen
Europe's reliance on Russian natural gas.
Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the
Senate Foreign Relations panel, said that over time, once
Ukraine is stabilized, there will be an effort to provide "some
type" of U.S. military assistance for Kiev.
Separately, the United States said on Thursday it had
imposed a ban on issuing licenses for military items to Russia
in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Some Democrats in Congress said they were pleased a Ukraine
bill had finally passed but still wanted approval of the IMF
The White House has been trying for years to win Congress'
approval for a shift of $63 billion from an IMF crisis fund to
its general accounts, making good on a commitment from 2010.
The Obama administration had said the approval was
especially important because of the vital role the international
lender would be playing in the Ukraine crisis. But many
Republicans, uncomfortable about potential costs to U.S.
taxpayers and a possible reduction in U.S. influence at the IMF,
insisted the two things were unrelated.
Supporters of the reform deny there would be any cost to
taxpayers and say failure to approve the change, rather than
approval, could put U.S. influence at risk.
The IMF announced an agreement on Thursday for a $27 billion
bailout for Ukraine to help the heavily indebted ex-Soviet
republic stabilize its economy after three months of protests
that resulted in the ouster of its pro-Moscow president,
prompting Russia to annex Crimea.
"This agreement highlights the important role the IMF can
play in preventing economic catastrophe," said Maryland
Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House,
urging lawmakers to reconsider the IMF reforms.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, editing by Cynthia