Feb 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

New GOP bill targets Russian oligarchs with pre-invasion sanctions

Jim Risch

Photo: Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

32 Republican senators introduced a new bill on Tuesday that would impose immediate sanctions on no fewer than 15 Russian oligarchs and members of Vladimir Putin's inner circle, regardless of whether Russia invades Ukraine.

Why it matters: Anti-kleptocracy activists have long called on the U.S. to do more to target Russian oligarchs who exploit Western financial systems to hide their stolen wealth.

  • Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the lead sponsor of the bill, said preemptive sanctions would "ensure Putin pays a price now for hybrid attacks already launched."
  • The introduction of the bill comes as bipartisan negotiations on a broader sanctions package have stalled in the Senate, in part due to disagreements over when sanctions should be imposed and certain provisions that could affect European allies.

Details: In addition to the immediate costs on Putin's cronies, Risch's Never Yielding Europe’s Territory (NYET) Act would impose a cascade of financial sanctions on Russian banks — as well as other entities that knowingly engage with them — in the event that Russia further invades Ukraine.

  • The bill would also mandate sanctions on Nord Stream 2, which has long been a headache for the Biden administration, if Russia invades Ukraine or the German government allows the pipeline to be certified.
  • Outside of sanctions, the bill would authorize an additional $500 million in security assistance for Ukraine, create a lend-lease program, and establish a "Ukraine Resistance Fund" as a policy framework for post-invasion U.S. assistance.

Between the lines: Sanctions would be triggered if the president determines that Russia has escalated its aggression toward Ukraine, including through "offensive cyber operations," with the aim of toppling the government in Kyiv or undermining Ukraine's sovereignty.

  • Giving President Biden the power to determine the threshold for sanctions is a compromise by Republicans, but the bill allows any chairman or ranking member of a national security committee to request a determination within 15 days.
  • If Biden fails to act on the request, sanctions would automatically be imposed.

The other side: Senate Foreign Relations chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Risch's Democratic counterpart, blasted the Republican bill on Tuesday as "partisan posturing."

  • “The latest proposal by Republicans is largely a reflection of what Democrats had already agreed to in our ongoing conversations, building off of the ‘mother of all sanctions’ we initially proposed," Menendez said in a statement.
  • "A partisan victory is not worth a message of division from Washington, which only benefits Putin," he added, urging Republicans to return to bipartisan negotiations.

The big picture: It's highly unlikely the Senate will be able to reach an agreement on anything other than a symbolic statement of support for Ukraine before recess begins next week.

  • Risch told reporters on Tuesday that he believes his bill will be "very popular" on both sides of the aisle if Russia proceeds with an invasion.
  • As of now, however, the Biden administration continues to oppose several of its key provisions, including sanctions on Nord Stream 2 that are not tied to a potential invasion.
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