Back in town, Congress continues work on Ukraine response

With less than a week until a referendum on the status of the Crimean Peninsula that the Obama administration insists is illegitimate, U.S. lawmakers are still preparing a legislative response to the crisis in Ukraine.

The Senate returned Monday and could begin to take up Ukraine-related legislation this week, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., indicated before lawmakers left town last week.

Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., are working on an aid package that will contain both loan guarantees and punitive measures against individuals who threatened Ukraine's sovereignty, mirroring the White House's visa restrictions against pro-Russian opponents of the new Ukrainian government implemented last week, according to Politico.

Last week, the House approved $1 billion in existing funds to act as loan guarantees for Ukraine by a vote of 385 to 23. On Tuesday, lawmakers will vote on a nonbinding resolution condemning Russia's violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and calling for sanctions against Russian officials, banks and other state agencies that passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week.

Though both chambers of Congress have bipartisan support for loan guarantees for Ukraine, any legislation could be complicated by potential reforms to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) being sought by the White House. The member countries agreed in 2010 to expand the lending fund and give more weight to emerging markets. The reforms, which face opposition in the GOP-led House, were not included in their legislation.

"The IMF is the world's first responder in this kind of crisis, providing the expertise and financing needed to restore the Ukrainian economy to financial stability and growth. The U.S. has used its leadership position in the IMF to ensure that the IMF is forward- leaning in its response to the crisis in Ukraine, but we need to pass the IMF reform to maintain our leadership on issues like this one," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday.

President Obama, meanwhile, is preparing to meet with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk Wednesday in the White House where he will express his support for the "responsible way in which Ukrainian officials in the parliament and the new government have handled "the crisis, according to the White House.

"I think it will reinforce the fact that the United States believes that the Ukrainian government has responsibly filled the vacuum left by the sudden hasty and voluntary departure by President Yanukovych," Carney said.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for