- Sanctioning Putin could completely dismantle US-Russia ties, the Kremlin warned on Thursday.
- Senate Democrats introduced legislation that would sanction Putin, among others, if Russia invades Ukraine.
- Russia has gathered tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine’s border in recent weeks.
The Kremlin on Thursday warned of a complete rupture of US-Russia ties if Washington moves to sanction Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Ukraine crisis.
“The imposition of sanctions against the head of state and against the head of Russia, I repeat once again, is an outrageous measure that is comparable to a break in relations,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, per Russian state news agency Tass.
This came after top Senate Democrats on Wednesday, led by Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, unveiled a new sanctions bill that would penalize Russia if it invades Ukraine.
“This legislation makes it absolutely clear that the US Senate will not stand idly by as the Kremlin threatens a re-invasion of Ukraine,” Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
“As the Biden administration seeks a diplomatic path forward this week in Europe to avoid another bloody escalation in Ukraine, I find little reason to believe that Putin is negotiating in good faith nor do I believe he has any newfound respect for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Menendez added. “Putin need not collapse his entire economy nor does he need to sacrifice the lives of his own people in a futile attempt to rewrite the map of Europe.”
The White House said it supports the legislation, which would impose sanctions on top Russian officials — including Putin.
“We support Senator Menendez’s legislation, which would trigger severe costs to Russia’s economy and support additional security assistance to Ukraine should Russia further invade,” National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said of the bill, per The New York Times. “We will keep working with Congress on maximizing potential costs to Russia.”
The legislation offers an alternative to a bill introduced by GOP Sen. Ted Cruz to impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2, an undersea Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline that opponents worry could give Moscow major leverage over Europe and hurt Ukraine. The pipeline, which is completed but not yet operational due to pending German certification, is set up to deliver gas from Russia to Germany. It goes through the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine and Poland.
Though the pipeline is controversial and the Ukrainian government supports sanctions against it, top Senate Democrats opposed Cruz’s bill and accused the Texas Republican of attempting to hurt President Joe Biden by undermining transatlantic ties amid delicate diplomatic talks over Ukraine.
“Let’s be clear, the Cruz bill we are debating this week has nothing to do with stopping a Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said in a tweet on Tuesday. “In fact, it makes it more likely because the bill’s chief impact is to break up transatlantic unity right at the moment that unity is key to deterring Russia.”
The Biden administration, eager to stay on Germany’s good side, has opposed sanctions on Nord Stream 2 and recently contended that the pipeline would offer Europe leverage over Russia.
“Some may see Nord Stream 2 as leverage that Russia can use against Europe. In fact, it’s leverage for Europe to use against Russia,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week.
Russia in recent weeks has gathered a huge force of tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s border, prompting fears of an invasion.
The US and its allies have held talks with Russia in Europe this week in an effort to prevent a broader confrontation, but there haven’t been any major breakthroughs so far. Moscow has made sweeping demands for binding security guarantees that the US and NATO have dismissed as non-starters, including that Ukraine never be permitted to join the alliance. Though Ukraine is not currently member of the alliance, it maintains robust ties with NATO.
A top Russian diplomat on Thursday suggested there was no point in continuing to hold dialogue, as European leaders warned of the potential for war. Some US officials and experts have expressed concerns that Moscow could use the failed diplomatic talks as a pretext for an invasion.