US financial aid to Ukraine in limbo as Congress wrangles with legislation




Obama calls on Congress to put differences aside to show united front against Russia ahead Crimea referendum vote.
Obama Ukraine meeting
Obama meets Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House on Wednesday. Photograph: Ron Sachs/Rex
A political row over reforms to the International Monetary Fund threatened to frustrate US attempts to agree on financial aid for Ukraine on Wednesday as US president Barack Obama met with its prime minister in an attempt to show united western support.
Though warmly received in Washington, the visit by Arseniy Yatsenyuk coincided with the difficult process of assembling a coalition in the US Congress to pass legislation for a package of loan guarantees and sanctions against Russia.
The Senate foreign affairs committee passed a version of the legislation by 14 votes to three on Wednesday afternoon, but included controversial reforms to the IMF which the administration says will increase its flexibility to respond to future crisis.
These are opposed by many Republicans and a separate amendment initially intended to placate them was not included by the GOP’s ranking member on the committee, senator Bob Corker, for fear of further complicating the bill’s passage.
Senator John McCain was one of several senior Republicans opposed to the IMF measures, though said he would vote in favour when the bill reaches the floor of the full Senate.
“Obviously there are issues associated with the legislation that may still be controversial but the legislation itself has the support of the majority our colleagues,” he added.
But senator Rand Paul was sharply critical of the reforms which he said would paradoxically increase Russian influence in the IMF. He also questioned whether loans to Ukraine would merely go to fund gas imports from Moscow or would encourage corruption.
Obama called on Congress to put such differences aside in the interests of showing a united front against Russian aggression ahead of a referendum in Crimea this weekend.
“We’re asking Congress to act promptly to deliver on an aid package, including a $1bn loan guarantee that can help smooth the path for reform inside of Ukraine and give the prime minister and his government the capacity to do what they need to do as they are also organising an election process,” he told reporters after his meeting with Yatsenyuk
“So I would just ask both Democrats and Republicans, who I know are unified in their support of Ukraine, to move quickly to give us the support that we need so that we can give the Ukrainian people the support that they need.”
Yatsenyuk acknowledged concerns of corruption during a separate event at the Atlantic Council, but called on US politicians to support internal reform with financial assistance.
“We fully realise that the IMF program is not a sweet candy, but on the other hand my country desperately needs real reforms,” he said.
Ironically, Republican discomfort with the shape of the Ukraine legislation comes as many hawks on the right are also worried that Obama is not forceful enough in his dealings with Russia.
At a debate at the conservative Heritage Foundation, a panel of diplomats and commentators dismissed the Obama administration’s previous diplomatic attempt at a “Russian reset”.
“The current crisis is not an aberration, it is the culmination of many years” of Russian policy, said Stephen Blank, a senior fellow with the American Foreign Policy Council.
Luke Coffey, a fellow at Heritage, said that before any American military intervention, “Ukrainians are going to have to show us that they think Crimea is worth dying for.”
Blank proposed long-term actions, suggesting the installation of a permanent Nato fleet in the Black Sea, and American missile defences in the Baltic states.
“If Russia tears up arms treaty, I’d say: ‘Be my guest. We’re prepared to spend you into the ground,’” Blank said.

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