UPDATED: Corker, Congress Vote to Poke the Bear

Updated Dec. 16, 1:25pm: The White House has indicated President Barack Obama intends to sign legislation unanimously approved by Congress to provide $350 million of “lethal aid” to Ukraine and impose further sanctions on Russia.

TNReport initially reported the legislation had passed the Senate, but hadn’t yet receive full congressional approval. However, on Dec. 11, new legislation — identical to the Senate bill — was introduced in the House of Representatives and was approved by the full House “without objection” later that day, according to Congress.gov. The Senate then approved the House bill on voice vote Dec. 13.

“Because the bill included loan guarantee provisions and thus, involved raising revenues, a new bill had to be introduced and passed in the House,” according to a press release from House sponsor Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Penn, who is also co-chair of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Monday urged Obama to sign the legislation, which he said would “underline our strong moral commitment to the cause of the Ukrainian people.”

Previous Post, Dec. 14, 8pm:

Tennessee’s junior senator, next in line to lead the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Republicans take control of the chamber in January, wants America more involved in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

Bob Corker, the wealthy former Chattanooga mayor who came of military age during the Vietnam War but never served in the armed forces, is becoming one of the most influential voices in Congress on foreign policy.

His approach of late has been to favor American military interventions and involvement in overseas conflicts. With respect to the regional disharmony in Eastern Europe, he supports the United States sending “lethal aid” to the Ukrainian military in their battle against forces loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And with the Senate’s unanimous passage of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, the nation is one step closer to realizing Corker’s vision.

While the House has yet to vote on the Senate’s legislation — it was referred to committee Dec. 2, according to Congress.gov — last week a House resolution was passed “strongly condemning” the forcible annexation of the Crimean region by Russia, and calling for further sanctions on Russia and aid to Ukraine.  Only 10 representatives voted against the House resolution — five members of each party. Of Tennessee’s House delegation, only Republican Rep. John Duncan, TN-02, and Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper, TN-05, voted against the measure.

The Senate’s Ukraine Freedom Support Act, passed on a voice vote Thursday, authorizes the offer of “lethal aid” to Ukraine, and includes sanctions on Roboronexport, a Russian state agency promoting defense and arms trade, and Gazprom, a major Russian state-controlled natural gas company.

The approved version of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014, sponsored by Corker and outgoing Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., was softened from its original form, which included further sanctions on Russia’s energy industry and designations for Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova as”major non-NATO allies.”

Russian officials have announced they “will not be able to leave this without a response.”

However, while Corker maintains the need for U.S. action to address Putin’s geopolitical overreach, he acknowledged the aid package won’t necessarily turn the tide for Ukraine.

“The lethal support to me is something that certainly is not going to mean that they would ever be able to stand up to Russia. It’s not going to happen. It raises the price, it shows a little bit of a deeper commitment,” Corker said while speaking about the Iranian nuclear program at a Foreign Policy Initiative conference sponsored by Raytheon, an American defense contractor and industrial corporation. The Foreign Policy Initiative is a non-profit think tank supporting U.S. global involvement, a strong military and the spread of democracy.

Corker added the best time for action would have been while the Russian president was preparing to invade Ukraine. But now, “we waited too long, the genie’s out of the bottle,” Corker said. “It’s very difficult to see how we don’t end up in a frozen conflict there.”

Putin is riding a “nationalistic wave” that he will likely “ride even harder” given Russia’s recent economic hardships, including the possibility of recession in 2015, said Corker.  According to a National Public Radio report from last week, Russia’s economy is taking big hits from Western sanctions, the ruble’s recent loss of value and falling oil prices.

When asked about how falling oil prices will effect Russia, Corker joked, “It’s actually much better than any of the sanctions we’ve put in place, right?”

Corker said at the conference he hopes the president will follow congressional lead, because of the legislation’s strong bipartisan support and unanimous approval by the Senate committee.

During Putin’s December 4 “State of the Nation” speech, he denounced Western nations for attacks on the Russian Federation, and alleged Russia’s opponents will find any excuse to impose sanctions on the Eurasian nation.

And in September, Putin called on military leaders to update the nation’s military doctrine to meet changing global politics and military challenges, such as the Syrian civil war and the Ukrainian conflict.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Army announced it would be deploying 100 armored vehicles across Eastern Europe in an effort to deter further “Russian aggression.”