[JURIST] Both the US Senate and the House of Representatives [official websites] on Thursday approved nearly identical bills [text] that would send a $1 billion aid package to Ukraine and place new sanctions on Russia. The bill passed [NYT report] by a vote of 98-2 in the Senate and 399-19 in the House. Despite the overwhelming support of the bill, Congress remains torn on how the government should confront Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website]. Some lawmakers from both parties called for more aggressive action, asking for sanctions on the banking and energy sector or increased military assistance to Ukraine. Others urged caution and argued that more action is unnecessary unless Russia moved farther into Ukraine or a neighboring country. Congress will have to reconcile the two similar bills before President Obama can sign the bill into law, which he has stated he plans to do so.
The ongoing conflict [BBC timeline] in Ukraine has reinvigorated fears of Cold War Era politics and increased tension between Russia and the West. The conflict in Ukraine followed a number of protests [JURIST podcast] over the suspension of negotiations on a long-expected trade deal between Ukraine and the EU. Last Friday, Putin finalized [JURIST report] the annexation of Crimea. On Thursday the Russian State Duma [official website, in Russian] voted nearly unanimously to approve Russia's annexation of Crimea despite threats of further sanctions from Western powers. Also last week Putin and representatives of Crimea signed a treaty [JURIST report] to incorporate Crimea into the Russian Federation. Earlier in March, US President Barack Obama condemned [JURIST report] Russia's military intervention in the region as a violation of international law.