Anti-Russian Bill Announced in US Congress

Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), a ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, have introduced a comprehensive legislation to address the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

They were joined by an additional bipartisan group of 14 members to introduce the Stability and Democracy (STAND) for Ukraine Act (H.R. 5094), which toughens the position of the United States on the Russian Federation.

If signed into law, the new bill would prevent the White House from lifting the sanctions against Russia until Ukraine «restores control over Crimea», or «settles the peninsula's status to Kiev's satisfaction».

The proposed legislation tightens the existing sanctions on Russia and drives new innovations to provide support for Ukraine, including a push for greater private investment in the Ukrainian economy by minimizing and pooling political risk to would-be private investors. 

The bill would codify the US government’s policy of non-recognition of Russian authority over Crimea, mirroring the US policy of refusing to recognize Soviet sovereignty over the Baltic States. The document requires a regular report on foreign financial institutions that are «illicitly controlling» Ukraine state-owned assets – namely Russian banks in Crimea. The bill also directs the State Department to implement a strategy to respond to what the document calls «Russian propaganda and disinformation».

The draft law imposes an Arms Export Control Act «presumption of denial» standard on any NATO member that transfers certain defense articles or services containing US technology or components to Russia while «Russia is forcibly occupying the territory of Ukraine or any NATO member». The bill extends the Magnitsky Act to the so-called «territories occupied or otherwise controlled by Russia» such as Crimea, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria. 

The timing makes the purpose clear. With the presidential election in sight, the introduced STAND for Ukraine Act places into statute the existing Executive Order sanctions imposed on Russia by Mr Obama, making sure the relationship with Russia will be damaged for a long time. A sitting President can cancel a pre-existing Executive Order at the moment he chooses, but repealing an existing legislation passed by the House and the Senate is a tall order. The new President would have to submit official certification to Congress that Ukraine «has restored its sovereignty over Crimea, or that alternatively the peninsula’s status has been resolved to the satisfaction of a sitting and democratically elected government in Kiev» prior to lifting the sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation.

The bill was introduced against the background of serious deterioration of Russia-US relationship.

It was announced right after the US President met leading NATO members in Hannover to state that the US and its NATO allies are planning to deploy four battalions consisting of four thousand soldiers to Poland and the Baltic countries.

The White House plans to pay for the additional weapons and equipment with a budget request of more than $3.4 billion for military spending in Europe in 2017, more than quadrupling the current budget of $789 million. The weapons and equipment will be used by American and NATO forces, ensuring that the alliance can maintain a full armored combat brigade in the region at all times.

The list of measures to complicate the Russia-US relationship can go on, but the proposed legislation stands out as the most long-lasting factor to prevent the improvement in the future in case it becomes a law. 

The Jackson-Vanik amendment to the Trade Act of 1974 went into force in 1975. The legislation was about the freedom of emigration from the USSR to become irrelevant in less than a dozen of years. It stood in the way of improving the relations for about 40 years just because it was hard to repeal. The amendment, which had no whatsoever relation to reality, was in force till the Magnitsky Act was signed into law in December, 2012.

The STAND for Ukraine Act presupposes outright pressure on NATO allies to make them act in line with the US policy on Russia. One can hardly imagine NATO allies defence equipment employing no US technology. Time will pass, and the things will change. Some NATO members may not like the encroachment on their sovereignty. That’s not the way to treat allies.

Another example – the US Air Force cannot do without Russian RD-180 rocket engines.

Will the United States make an exception from the rule, while making European allies strictly comply with the sanctions in accordance with the STAND for Ukraine Act?

If signed into a law, the legislation will spoil the relations with Russia for many years. The crisis in Ukraine will become a thing of the past and new problems will appear requiring joint efforts to tackle them, but the Act will obstruct any efforts to achieve positive results. No doubt, that many people who realize how much damage the legislation could do, keep their fingers crossed in hope the US lawmakers will be wise enough to prevent the bill from becoming a law.