US House readies Ukraine Bill, no IMF reforms

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A US House panel Tuesday approved aid to Ukraine and sanctions on Russia over its Crimea aggression, as pressure mounted on Senate Democrats to pass a compromise Bill without controversial IMF reforms attached.

The House of Representatives has already passed a Bill securing $1 billion (S$1.26 billion) in loan guarantees offered by President Barack Obama's administration after violent anti-government protests in Kiev forced Ukraine's pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych to flee.

After Moscow took over Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and annexed it, the White House responded by imposing sanctions on Russian officials and politically connected businessmen.

The House Bill would expand those sanctions, enhance security cooperation with Ukraine and call for the recovery of Ukrainian assets seized through corruption.

"The United States and our allies must take immediate action to strengthen Ukraine's sovereignty and independence" and target Russian officials involved in the aggression in Crimea, said Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which approved the measure.

It provides US$50 million for support for democracy and civil society in Ukraine, enhances security cooperation, and provides US$10 million for increased US radio broadcasting into the region by US government-funded Radio Free Europe and Voice of America.

But it crucially leaves out pending International Monetary Fund reforms that were part of the Ukraine aid bill that advanced Monday in the Senate.

"What the Senate ought to be doing is taking up our bills and just moving them," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters, calling the IMF elements "unrelated" to the aid debate.

The White House backs the Senate legislation including the IMF reforms as well as the loan guarantees and sanctions.

"All it's going to do is slow the whole process down, so I would hope that we would find a common ground, pass it (House legislation), so that we can help our friends," Boehner said.

House Democrat Brad Sherman seemed to agree.

"It is important we adopt bipartisan legislation as quickly as possible, and that we avoid controversial and partisan division," Sherman said.

The IMF dispute was nearly overshadowed by fierce debate over whether the United States was unnecessarily stoking tensions by slapping sanctions on Russians and describing Moscow's invasion of Crimea as naked aggression.

"Instead of trying to play a constructive role, it appears we have opted to fan the flames of hostility between our two countries," congressman Dana Rohrabacher told the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The California Republican raised eyebrows when he suggested Russian President Vladimir Putin may not have been wrong to annex Crimea, and warned against Washington "trying to utilize this controversy as a means of defeating them and pushing them into a hole." "We're rushing in to a reigniting of the Cold War," Rohrabacher said.

Fellow Republican Ted Poe countered that it was Putin who "has started Cold War II." "I think it's in our national security... that he be told, 'No, you can't do this without some consequences," Poe said.