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Senate Panel Clears Ukraine Aid Package

A bill aimed at punishing Russia for sending its forces into Crimea by imposing sanctions on Moscow and providing economic aid to Ukraine has passed a key vote in the U.S. Senate.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 14-3 to pass the measure that authorizes $1 billion in loan guarantees to the new government in Kiev as well as the freezing certain Russian assets in the U.S.

The three votes against the bill came from Republican lawmakers whose "objections include how the U.S. will pay for the loan guarantees and provisions in the bill expanding the lending authority of the International Monetary Fund," The Associated Press says.

The bill also directs the Obama administration to help the new Ukraine government identify and recover illegal assets claimed by the country's ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, as well as members of his family and government.

The committee's chair, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, writes in The Washington Post:

"[Russian President Vladimir] Putin has miscalculated by starting a game of Russian roulette with the international community, but we refuse to blink, and we will never accept this violation of international law.

"The unity of purpose displayed at the U.N. Security Council, by the European Union and the Group of Seven nations in support of Ukrainian autonomy and in opposition to Russian authoritarianism demonstrates the world's outrage and will serve as a call to action."

Reuters says:

"If approved by the full Senate, the bill would have to pass the House to become law. Even if it passes, the bill is not expected to be finalized until later in March; Congress leaves Washington on Friday for a week-long recess.

"The Obama administration has been pushing Congress for a year to approve a shift of $63 billion from an IMF crisis fund to its general accounts to maintain U.S. influence at the lender and make good on a commitment from 2010.

"Some Republicans worry about the IMF's lending to richer European nations and possible losses on loans by the fund.

"Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he opposed including the IMF reforms in the bill. 'This legislation is supposed to be about assisting Ukraine and punishing Russia,' he said in a statement."

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