U.S. senators work on bipartisan bill to aid Ukraine

U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) talks to reporters after a meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) talks to reporters after a meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2021. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

WASHINGTON, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Republican U.S. senators said on Wednesday they are working with Democrats on legislation to aid Ukraine as Washington works to prevent another attack by Russia on the former Soviet state and after a bill they supported failed to pass last week.

A bill led by Republican Senator Ted Cruz that would place sanctions on Russia's Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline to Germany within 15 days of passage, last week did not get the majority it needed to pass in the 50-50 Senate. read more

Critics said automatic sanctions on the pipeline risked driving a wedge between the United States and its allies, especially Germany, potentially harming a united front against Russia.

A day before Cruz's bill, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez proposed a bill imposing sanctions on the pipeline, on top Russian officials including President Vladimir Putin, and on banking institutions, should Russia attack Ukraine again. read more

"Passing something is better than passing nothing," Senator Kevin Cramer told reporters, who added that elements of Republican proposed legislation, such as that sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio could be joined with items in the Menendez bill.

The senators did not say when a unified bill could come to the floor for a vote in the Senate, which has a packed schedule.

Cramer, who earlier this week took part in a bipartisan visit of U.S. Senators to Ukraine, said the bill should cut off Russia's access to the SWIFT global electronic payment system.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat is also preparing sanctions on Russia and will be prepared to impose them as soon as any tanks roll, officials have said. Restrictions under consideration could affect U.S. products exported to Russia and certain foreign-made products subject to U.S. jurisdiction. read more

Russia, which invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014, has massed about 100,000 troops on the border but says it is not readying another attack.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia could launch a new attack on Ukraine at "very short notice" but Washington would pursue diplomacy as long as it could. read more

The Menendez bill does not mention SWIFT by name, but the senator has said his legislation would target companies in Russia that offer secure messaging systems, such as SWIFT, which banks use to exchange information with other financial institutions.

Senator Rob Portman, who was also on the trip to Ukraine, said the bill could include measures to help Ukraine fight against cyberattacks that were passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last April.

"We would most likely be able to fold that in any new legislation," Portman said. A massive cyberattack on Ukraine this month splashed Ukrainian government websites with a warning to "be afraid and expect the worst".

Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Daphne Psaledakis; editing by Philippa Fletcher

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