US President Obama will sign Russia sanctions Bill: White House

US President Barack Obama will sign into law a Bill passed by Congress to tighten sanctions against Russia over its Ukraine incursion, the White House said on Tuesday amid a dramatic run on the rouble. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
US President Barack Obama will sign into law a Bill passed by Congress to tighten sanctions against Russia over its Ukraine incursion, the White House said on Tuesday amid a dramatic run on the rouble. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP, REUTERS) - US President Barack Obama will sign into law a Bill passed by Congress to tighten sanctions against Russia over its Ukraine incursion, the White House said Tuesday amid a dramatic run on the rouble.

"The President does intend to sign the Bill," spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters, while adding "it does preserve the president's flexibility to carry out this strategy".

The US Congress on Dec 13 unanimously passed the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which includes fresh sanctions against Moscow over its support of the pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

It also authorises - but does not legally require - Mr Obama to provide lethal and non-lethal military aid to Ukraine including anti-tank weapons.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday branded the new sanctions as hostile.

The measures hit Russia's defence and energy sectors with conditional sanctions against firms that sell or transfer military equipment to the territory of Ukraine (as well as Georgia, Moldova and Syria), with the goal of stopping the flow of weapons to separatists across the border.

The new sanctions would come at a moment when Moscow is in economic turmoil as a result of plunging oil prices. The rouble crashed to an unprecedented low on Tuesday, trading at 80 roubles to the dollar.

Speaking in London, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States and Europe could lift sanctions within days or weeks if President Vladimir Putin keeps taking steps to ease tensions and lives up to commitments under ceasefire accords to end the Ukraine conflict.

"These sanctions could be lifted in a matter of weeks or days, depending on the choices that President Putin takes," Mr Kerry told reporters. "Their sole purpose here is to restore the international norm with respect to behavior between nations," to ensure respect for borders, sovereignty and rights, he said.

Russia has made constructive moves in recent days towards reducing tensions in Ukraine, he said.