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U.S. lawmakers ready to act over Ukraine, but want Europe to step up

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) (C) speaks at a news conference held by the groups Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for G
U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) (C) speaks at a news conference held by the groups Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for G

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers expressed support on Monday for aid for Ukraine's new government, as well as sanctions to punish Russia for its military incursion into the neighboring country, but want European nations to step up their involvement in the crisis.

Senators are looking at options such as imposing sanctions on Russia's banks and freezing assets of Russian public institutions and private investors, Senator Chris Murphy, chairman of the Senate's Europe subcommittee, told Reuters.

But he said in a telephone interview that European governments also needed to act.

"Unilateral U.S. sanctions against Russia are not going to have much of an effect if Europe remains a haven for Russian banks and Russian oligarchs to stash and invest their money," the Connecticut Democrat said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was "deeply concerned" about what is happening in Ukraine. Noting that President Barack Obama has said he wanted to provide economic aid to Kiev, Reid said he was "happy to help in any way."

But the Nevada Democrat told reporters at the U.S. Capitol: "I'm going to recommend that anything that we do be in conjunction with our allies."

Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are preparing legislation - supported by members of both parties - to provide at least $1 billion in loan guarantees to provide structural support to Ukraine's economy.

TARGETED SANCTIONS

The measure would also authorize technical assistance for energy reforms, support elections, strengthen civil society, combat corruption and help Ukraine recover stolen assets, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, the committee's chairman, said in a statement.

The committee is also consulting with the Obama administration on possible actions against individual Russians - and Ukrainians who cooperated with them - ranging from visa bans and asset freezes to suspending military cooperation and sales, as well as economic sanctions.

Republican U.S. Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, also said Washington needed to act with the Europeans to pressure Moscow via its state-run banks or through trade.

"The Achilles heel for Russia is their economy, the rouble," Royce said on CNN.

European Union ministers held talks on the Ukraine crisis on Monday, but agreed on no deadlines or details about any punitive measures that could be put in place against Russia.

Republican Senator John McCain, one of his party's leading foreign policy voices, said he felt German Chancellor Angela Merkel in particular had been too timid.

Merkel and her 3-month-old coalition government have gone out of their way to avoid antagonizing Russian President Vladimir Putin, remaining measured even as Washington and other capitals ratcheted up the rhetoric. Germany is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas and is closer to Moscow than any other leading Western nation.

"I was very disappointed in her comments," McCain said of Merkel. "And, by the way, maybe Putin also, who knows Angela Merkel, thinks that he can get away with this."

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bill Trott and Peter Cooney)

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