Senate Sends Obama Legislation Authorizing Weapons for Ukraine

Patrick Goodenough | December 15, 2014 | 4:16am EST
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Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at an earlier meeting. (AP Photo, File)

( – Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Russian counterpart on Sunday, hours after the U.S. Senate sent President Obama legislation authorizing him to supply anti-tank and other weapons to Ukraine’s armed forces to use against Russian-backed separatists in the east.

After meeting with Kerry in Rome, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on his ministry’s Facebook page that he had told Kerry relations must be pursued on the basis of equality and mutual respect, and that attempts to exert pressure on Russia were hopeless.

The administration has resisted calls through the year to provide lethal assistance to the Ukrainians, but on Saturday night the Senate gave final approval by unanimous consent to legislation that authorizes him to do so, specifically listing anti-tank and anti-armor weapons, surveillance drones and other items.

The Ukraine Freedom Support Act also provides for sanctions beyond those imposed thus far by the U.S. or European allies.

The bill, which received initial Senate and House approval last week, now heads to the president’s desk.

Obama on Thursday voiced opposition to any toughening of sanctions that could strain unity between the U.S. and European Union.

“Where Putin will succeed is if it creates a rift in the transatlantic relationship,” he said during an Export Council meeting at the White House. “If you start seeing Europe divided from the United States that would be a strategic victory.  And I’m intent on preventing that.”

The legislation includes provisions targeting a major Russian entity, the Rosoboronexport arms exporter.

Also in the crosshairs is the Gazprom gas giant, which the measure says must be sanctioned if the president determines it is withholding significant amounts of gas from members of NATO or from Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova – all former Soviet states which Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to dissuade from aligning with the West..

Russia, which has the world’s biggest reserves of natural gas, has periodically used its energy resources for political leverage, with Gazprom limiting or cutting supply to Europe by pipeline through Ukraine, generally around winter.

Shortly before the Kerry-Lavrov meeting, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov accused the U.S. of trying to “impose its will” on Russia and the entire world, and warned that the Russian response would be “radical.”

He told the Itar-TASS news agency the new legislation caused “deep concern,” adding that “those who are behind it have not had any comprehension of what is going on in the world.”

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