The senators finally reached an agreement on Thursday evening allowing the resolution to pass unanimously before the Senate began a week of recess.
Thursday’s proposal by half a dozen top officials from both parties came after more cross-party negotiators failed to reach agreement on a comprehensive bill that would have bolstered the defenses of the Ukraine and sanctioned Russia if it invaded its western neighbor again. It also comes as Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, said she had asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to speak with the UN Security Council on Thursday morning amid “evidence on the ground” showing Russia is closing in on an invasion.
Failure to pass even a non-binding resolution expressing the Senate’s support for Ukraine would have exacerbated the frustration that senators have felt for weeks at the chamber’s failure to come together on a strong bill on the penalties.
“It’s important for Congress to speak with one voice,” Portman said in a brief interview Wednesday. “I hope every member will allow us to have a voice vote on this and get it done.”
Among other provisions, the resolution “denounces the Russian military build-up of more than 150,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, including in Belarus,” decrying President Vladimir Putin’s government as “threatening the security of border NATO allies. .contrary to established international standards”.
Obstacles aside, the effort represented a last resort for the Senate after top Democrats and Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee were unable to reach agreement on a broader sanctions package. After a month of negotiations, Chairman Bob Menendez (DN.J.) and his GOP counterpart, Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, were unable to bridge key divisions over the scope and types of sanctions to be imposed in the event of a Russian invasion.
Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement Thursday that she had asked Blinken to speak with the Security Council while traveling to the Munich Security Conference “to signal our intense commitment to diplomacy, to offer and underscore the path to de-escalation and to make it clear to the world that we are doing everything – everything – we can to prevent a war.
Senators from both parties, however, predicted they would quickly come together on a major sanctions bill if Russia invaded Ukraine, noting that the more recent effort by Menendez and Risch was aimed at deterring an incursion. Both foreign relations leaders signed the Shaheen-Portman resolution, as did Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
“I think if Moscow is reading this that there’s some kind of disagreement here about what happens if there’s an invasion, they’re making a horrible mistake,” Risch said. “Both sides are saying the same thing about wanting an outcome. It’s just what the action gets to that result. And I think it resolves quite easily and quickly if there is an invasion.
After the breakdown of the last round of negotiations, senators argued that Biden, who has pledged to impose tough sanctions on Moscow in the event of an invasion, already has the power to impose many of the sanctions that Congress has described. Republicans preferred immediate sanctions against Russian interests, while Democrats pushed for them only after a possible invasion.
Despite their disagreements on the accuracy sanctions regime, the senators had already rallied around a few key provisions as the basis of a bipartisan package designed to slap Russia in the face, including emergency lethal aid and efforts to bolster Ukraine’s cybersecurity defenses.
Shaheen and Portman said Wednesday that these latest provisions could end up in a longer-term public spending measure that is still being rejected by both sides.
“It’s not a bad conclusion if we end up with a resolution that makes a strong statement and we actually get the funding through the appropriations process,” Portman said.
Much of this funding, including lethal military assistance, has already been authorized under previous laws such as the annual Defense Policy Bill.