Jan 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Ukraine gives U.S. senators 4 specific asks


President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. Photo: John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

The chairman of Ukraine's parliament has sent a letter to eight U.S. senators outlining four specific requests for security assistance and sanctions that Kyiv believes will help deter a Russian invasion, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The Ukrainian government is leaning on Congress — and a bipartisan group of senators negotiating compromise language on sanctions that could pass the Senate — in an effort to push the U.S. posture beyond the Biden administration's approach.

  • Like the Ukrainian government, Republicans are pushing for the bill to impose some sanctions now, before Russia invades.
  • But Ukraine's intervention in yet another U.S. legislative fight is unlikely to please a Biden administration already frustrated with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

What they're saying: "Ukraine speaks from centuries of experience. We understand Russia," Chairman Ruslan Stefanchuk wrote in the letter, which also thanks Congress for ongoing bipartisan support. "We know what will and will not deter the occupants of the Kremlin."

Details: The four requests were approved by Zelensky's administration, according to two sources familiar with the matter. They are:

  1. "Expedited and higher-impact security assistance, including air defense, anti-ship and anti-armor capabilities, and flexible loans and financing mechanisms."
  2. "Immediate, mandatory sanctions" against the operator of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which the letter calls "no less an existential threat to Ukraine's security and democracy than the Russian troops on our border."
  3. "A clear trigger" for sanctions based on Russia's actions, with a lower threshold than what has been outlined in the current Democratic-sponsored legislation under consideration.
  4. "Mandatory pre-trigger and post-trigger sanctions against all of Russia's most significant financial institutions."

State of play: The eight senators who received the letter are Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.)

  • Menendez's White House-backed "mother of all sanctions" bill is the framework for the negotiations, but differences among senators and with the White House remain.
  • The Biden administration believes that triggering preemptive sanctions would eliminate the deterrent effect, while Republicans and the Ukrainians argue that they would show Vladimir Putin that the U.S. threats are credible.

Between the lines: Zelensky has repeatedly clashed with President Biden, most notably over Biden's decision to waive sanctions on Nord Stream 2.

  • On Thursday, the two leaders had a back-and-forth in a phone call about just how "imminent" the threat of a Russian invasion might be, with Zelensky warning that U.S. rhetoric is causing panic.
  • Zelensky then delivered a lengthy press conference on Friday arguing that Western warnings and media coverage are having a destabilizing effect on Ukraine's economy.

Read the letter.

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