What will the new congressional sanctions do to Russia?

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After weeks of debate, Congress finally approved its first sanctions on Russia, prompted by new reports of War crimes in Ukraine.

Lawmakers passed two bills aimed at imposing tough sanctions on Russia and providing more support for Ukraine on Thursday. legislation, and Law on Suspension of Ordinary Trade Relations with Russia and Belarus and the Law on Suspension of Energy Imports from Russiacovers much of the same underpinnings of sanctions already imposed by the White House, but underscores the degree of bipartisan support for such sanctions.

These laws codify the Biden administration’s ban on Russian oil imports and abolish normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus. They are also going beyond existing sanctions by relicensing the Magnitsky Act, which allows the US government to impose sanctions on individuals for human rights abuses.

In addition, the Senate on Wednesday passed legislation that Establishes a lending-lease agreement Which enables the United States to lend weapons that Ukraine can pay for at a later time. However, this bill has not yet been considered by the House of Representatives, and will not take it up before the next recess.

Until this week, the Senate’s penal code faltered over Republican concerns.

In the end, lawmakers faced pressure to get something done before they left for a two-week holiday on Friday, particularly afterwards. Reports of hundreds of civilian casualties Evidence of torture in Bucha, Ukraine.

“If anyone justifies the abolition of normal trade relations, it’s Vladimir Putin and the Russians for their behavior…and all this appalling barbarism over the weekend and into the week,” Senator Ron Wyden told reporters on Wednesday.

What will congressional sanctions do?

The Senate has struggled to come together on a sanctions package, despite longstanding bipartisan interest in doing so, in large part due to the concerns of two Republican senators, whose acceptance was essential to the vote moving forward quickly.

In recent weeks, Republicans have halted voting because they demanded specific changes. Two weeks ago, Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) opposed provisions of the Magnitsky Act that provide for human rights violations that may warrant sanctions. He said the bill is too broad in what counts as a violation, and could lead to Democrats punishing people for actions such as denying access to abortion.

“We just told them they need to define what a human rights violation is.” Paul said at that time. “But we’re not going to let them pass it on unless they put it in there, so they’re either going to put it in there or they’re going to be here for a week to do that.”

Meanwhile, Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) had lobbied for a loan-and-lease agreement to be considered alongside existing penal bills.

Lawmakers’ problems were eventually resolved. The language in the Magnitsky Act’s provision was changed to focus on “gross” violations of human rights rather than “grave” violations of human rights. Cornyn also secured a vote on lending and rent legislation.

Both houses have now passed two draft penal codes covering the following provisions:

  • oil embargo: The oil embargo blocks Russian imports of oil, natural gas and coal, codifying a measure Biden took last month.
  • The abolition of normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus: Biden had previously announced his support for the abolition of normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus, but he has requested congressional permission to implement it fully. Changing the trade status of these two countries allows the United States to impose higher tariffs on imported goods.
  • Reauthorization of the Magnitsky Act: The proposal also re-delegation Magnitsky’s lawwhich enables the US government to sanction individuals and entities who have committed human rights abuses by preventing them from entering the country, freezing assets held by US financial institutions, and preventing Americans from engaging in business dealings with them.

Congressional actions support what the administration has done

Several congressional actions support the moves Biden has already taken.

says Adam Smith, a sanctions attorney who previously worked on this case in the Obama administration.

“I can’t think of any legislative obligation that has been given to any executive that he or herself could not have taken,” Smith told Vox.

However, by passing sanctions, Congress is sending a message that the United States government is united in its support for Ukraine and its focus on holding Russia to account. Additionally, it is using the legislation to further empower the president, while giving Congress some jurisdiction over when sanctions can be lifted.

In the case of canceling normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus, for example, congressional actions enhance Biden’s ability to impose more tariffs, and show he has the support of members of both parties in doing so.

However, these bills can make it difficult to undo the sanctions: When it comes to both bills, the president will need to provide testimony to Congress in order to remove the sanctions, a safeguard against rolling back sanctions before Russia stops its invasion. .

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