The Cable

White House on the Fence on New Ukraine Sanctions

President Barack Obama has yet to decide whether he will sign legislation passed by Congress last week that would allow him to provide weapons to Ukraine’s ramshackle military and increase the penalties on Russia’s energy sector, setting up a confrontation with the GOP-held Congress in the new year. The Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 ...

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President Barack Obama has yet to decide whether he will sign legislation passed by Congress last week that would allow him to provide weapons to Ukraine’s ramshackle military and increase the penalties on Russia’s energy sector, setting up a confrontation with the GOP-held Congress in the new year.

The Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 unanimously passed the House and Senate last week. Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, have already urged the president not to sign the bill, calling it “hostile.”

Lavrov may get his wish. Despite the broad support for the measure on Capitol Hill — including among many of Obama’s fellow Democrats — the White House refused to commit to new sanctions Monday.

“It is … important that our sanctions regime strikes a delicate balance that maintains a united front with allies and partners, optimizes costs on Russia, and minimizes the impact on American business, international oil markets and the global economy,” a senior administration official told Foreign Policy in an email. “We will be evaluating whether the amended legislation enables us to sustain this important approach.”

The new legislation comes as the Russian economy heads toward recession. The threat of new penalties on Russia’s energy sector, combined with low oil prices, pushed Russian stocks lower Monday, setting up Russian equities for their longest losing streak since 2008. The ruble is at the lowest level since 1998, and Russia’s GDP could decline as much as 4.5 percent next year if oil prices don’t rebound.

Right now, a delicate cease fire between pro-Russian separatists and Ukraine is holding firm. Fighting in eastern Ukraine has already claimed 4,300 lives.

Lawmakers, pointing to the continued unrest in eastern Ukraine, say its vital that the administration do more to help the fragile pro-western government in Kiev.

“The House will continue to work to ensure that tangible assistance is provided not just to Ukraine but other partners and friends in the region,”  House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement Monday. “We also continue to work on increasing energy supplies to Europe, which will create American jobs and break the political manipulation of access to energy in Europe.”

It also appears that European leaders, who have been reluctant to impose new penalties against Russia, are edging toward new punishments. European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said Monday that new sanctions could come as early as this week but did not provide details on what the new sanctions would contain.

“Just today in the Foreign Affairs Council we restated unanimously the political commitment for swift implementation of the part of the sanctions that were already decided, so I would expect the work at the working group level to be finalized in these very same hours and then a written procedure could finalize their implementation in time for the European Council [meeting] on Thursday,” Mogherini said.

Photo Credit: Vasily Maximov/Getty Images 

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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