The bipartisan sanctions meeting, held on Zoom, comes as top Biden administration officials are delivering stark warnings about the potential for a Russian invasion of its neighbor amid growing acknowledgment that an incursion is inevitable absent deescalation by Putin. The Pentagon announced earlier Monday that around 8,500 U.S. troops are on standby to possibly deploy to Eastern Europe.
Among the changes under consideration to the stalled Menendez legislation include providing Ukraine with more security and anti-propaganda aid, as well as arming Biden with immediate sanctions authority. The updated bill would also give the president the option to waive the sanctions if the situation called for calming tensions. There was also talk of adding enhancement to Ukraine’s cyber capabilities in the bill.
The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline remains the greatest sticking point, one person familiar with the call said, namely how to include language about it without undercutting the administration’s negotiations with Germany on the broader sanctions package.
However, another person with knowledge of the Zoom chat said nothing was concretely agreed to, and additional changes might be made to the measure. The talks, this person stressed, are still in the very early stages.
By all accounts the negotiations were cordial and workmanlike. “There is strong bipartisan consensus in quickly moving forward legislation,” a Senate aide told POLITICO.
Still, the goal remains that by the end of the week, Menendez and Sens. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) will have come to an agreement on a version that both parties can support.
“There was a lot of common ground and a lot of agreement among most members that could they could find a way forward, and there’s confidence that they should,” one of the people said.
Portman and Shaheen recently co-led a bipartisan delegation to Ukraine, where they met with the country’s senior leaders.
Menendez previously said in an interview that he wanted to have a consensus sanctions package ready to go by the time the Senate returns to session next week.
The original version of Menendez’s legislation would authorize a slew of biting sanctions on Moscow, including ones targeting Russia’s financial institutions as well as its most senior leaders, namely Putin and his cabinet.