WASHINGTON — The Senate voted unanimously on Thursday to strip Moscow of its preferential trade status and to ban the import of Russian energy into the United States, further penalizing the Russian economy in response to the invasion of Ukraine. .
The legislation would allow the United States to impose higher tariffs on Russian goods and cut off an important source of income for President Vladimir V. Putin, although experts said the ban on oil and gas would be largely symbolic. Russian energy represents a small fraction of US imports, and Moscow is already struggling to export its oil.
The House is expected to pass the measures later Thursday, sending them to President Biden’s office.
The bills came after weeks of partisan stalemate that paralyzed legislative action on Ukraine. The House passed similar legislation last month, but the legislation languished as senators fought over various provisions, particularly human rights language that Sen. Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, deemed too broad.
Wary of allowing legislation passed by the House to sit in limbo as senators prepared to leave Washington for a planned two-week recess, Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat and Majority Leader , said Wednesday night that the Senate would pass the legislation just hours before confirming Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.
“Putin must absolutely be held accountable for the heinous and despicable war crimes he is committing against Ukraine,” Schumer said. “The images we’ve seen coming out of this country, especially from the city of Bucha, are nothing short of diabolical.” He later called the gruesome crimes perpetrated by Russian soldiers “genocide”.
“When we kill innocent civilians for no reason because of who they are, be it their religion, race or nationality, that’s genocide, and Mr. Putin is guilty of that,” Mr. Schumer said.
Russo-Ukrainian War: Main Developments
Yet the difficulty of passing legislation broadly backed by Republicans and Democrats in both chambers to punish Russia — and replicating efforts announced by the White House nearly a month ago — has hinted at bleak prospects for future attempts by lawmakers to adopt sweeping measures to support Ukraine.
Senators on Wednesday night passed a bill to resurrect the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, last used during World War II to help allies fighting Germany, lend military equipment to the Ukraine. It passed after 9 p.m. without warning or debate, using a mechanism that automatically approves legislation unless a senator on the floor objects, suggesting lawmakers feared one or more of their colleagues do not travel to thwart the passage of the bill.
The trade and gas and oil bills passed Thursday will be the first stand-alone legislation Congress has sent to Mr. Biden’s office in more than 40 days since Russia invaded in an effort to punish Moscow or to help Kyiv. The most significant bill Congress passed to help Ukraine was the $13.6 billion military and humanitarian assistance package passed last month, which was tied to a must-have federal spending bill. .
The United States’ decision to strip Russia of its preferential trading status – known as “permanent normal trade relations” – carries symbolic weight, but trade experts have said it will have a limited economic effect compared to other sanctions that have been imposed. The revocation of this status has a much greater effect for the European Union, Russia’s largest trading partner.