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US Congress pushes for tougher Russia sanctions
December 12, 2014, 11:39 am

The Obama Administration says it is still studying the Congressional act, but the President has said he does not want to take action against Russia if it harms European allies [Xinhua]

The Obama Administration says it is still studying the Congressional act, but the President has said he does not want to take action against Russia if it harms European allies [Xinhua]

The US Congress on Friday unanimously passed a non-binding measure which authorizes President Barack Obama to tighten sanctions against Russia and provide military assistance to the Ukraine military.

But according to statements from the White House, the Obama administration has yet to make a decision on the measure.

Current US and EU sanctions, Washington and Brussels say, are designed to “stop the inflow of weapons and troops from [Russian] territory into Ukraine and Russia must withdraw those already present”.

Russia has denied arming the pro-Moscow rebels fighting the Ukraine military, and says none of its troops are in Ukraine’s eastern regions.

Titled the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014, the Congressional measure specifically targets Russia’s arms exports industry and Gazprom, the country’s largest energy and natural gas provider.

State-run Gazprom controls nearly one-fifth of the world’s gas reserves and supplies more than half of the gas Ukraine uses each year.

The pipeline to Ukraine also carries gas meant for Europe. More than a quarter of the EU’s total gas needs were met by Russian gas, and some 80 per cent of it came via Ukrainian pipelines.

European energy analysts had previously worried gas supply disruptions this winter.

But on November 2, Kiev and Moscow signed a $4.6-billion pact, giving Ukraine gas from Russia starting from November 2014 through the end of March 2015 on a prepayment mode.

Kiev will pay Moscow its $3.1 billion gas debt in two tranches by the end of the current year to resume gas deliveries.

The Obama administration has been wary of tightening sanctions on Russia’s energy sector too quickly for fear of a backlash and halt of gas deliveries to European allies.

Although the Act is not binding, Moscow reacted quickly on Friday saying such measures harm relations with the US.

“The openly confrontational nature of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act approved by both houses of the US Congress without debate and proper voting cannot cause anything but deep regret,” said ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.

“US legislators are following in the footsteps of the Barack Obama administration by showing great zeal in destroying the framework of cooperation,” he told reporters.

In Kiev, the reaction was very different; Ukrainian lawmakers lauded the Congressional measure to provide $350 million worth of training and materiel, including anti-tank weapons, and surveillance and communications equipment.

Meanwhile, a ceasefire agree between pro-Moscow rebels and the Ukraine army appears to be holding with no casualties reported on Friday.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed not to succumb to Western pressure tactics like “sanctions and threats” while laying the impetus on Russian economic independence.

“Russia has the ability to make unorthodox decisions in order to provide for the country’s security. Russia will remain open for foreign investment and joint projects,” said Putin in Moscow.

To offset the impact of sanctions, Putin announced a multi-billion dollar welfare fund to under-write low-interest business loans and offered amnesty for offshore money coming back to Russia.

Source: Agencies