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Senators near a deal on sanctions against Russia if it invades Ukraine

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The U.S. Senate is negotiating legislation that would impose sanctions on Russia. It's part of the U.S. effort to prevent it from launching an invasion. But the Senate isn't moving quickly. Here's NPR's Barbara Sprunt.

BARBARA SPRUNT, BYLINE: Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who led a congressional delegation to Ukraine two weeks ago, says it's important for Congress to send a message to Russia via sanctions and that the message has to be bipartisan.

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ROB PORTMAN: Should they make a big mistake and actually invade Ukraine, the consequences would be devastating. So we agree with this on a bipartisan basis, bicameral basis. We need to express it clearly.

SPRUNT: A group of Republican and Democratic senators has been negotiating a sanctions package, but there are two sticking points.

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BOB MENENDEZ: One is Nord Stream-related sanctions and pre-invasion sanctions.

SPRUNT: That's Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. He's chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Nord Stream 2 is a gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. The gas isn't flowing yet, but critics have argued it would make Europe too dependent on Russia. Last month, Democrats blocked a Republican effort to impose sanctions on the pipeline after the White House argued the sanctions could cause a rift with a key European ally. The second unresolved issue is the pre-invasion sanctions. Republicans have pushed for penalties to be implemented ahead of any further steps taken by Russia. Menendez says this could be an area of compromise, although he acknowledged the Biden administration isn't keen on upfront sanctions.

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MENENDEZ: They're not enthralled with the idea, but I have suggested that a strong bipartisan response is something that strengthens their hand.

SPRUNT: White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday the administration is encouraged by the bipartisan discussion on how to hold Russia accountable. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who went on that recent congressional trip to Ukraine, warns against downplaying the global significance of Russia's actions.

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CHRIS MURPHY: This would be the most significant violation of the post-World War II order in Europe in our lifetime, and China is watching. If Russia gets away with this without any significant penalty, it'll just be a matter of time before China moves on Taiwan.

SPRUNT: Senators hope to reach an agreement on the bill by the end of the week. Barbara Sprunt, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.