US Senate panel backs Ukraine aid, hurdles remain

US Senate panel backs Ukraine aid, hurdles remain

WASHINGTON - A US Senate panel approved a closely-watched aid package Wednesday for Ukraine, but a battle over IMF reforms crucial to expanding loans to the country might torpedo the legislation.

The package would greenlight US$1 billion (S$1.26 billion) in US loan guarantees to Kiev and imposes sanctions on figures involved in the crackdown on anti-government protesters and in Russia's seizure of Crimea.

It easily passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a majority of 14 members to three.

It also commits US$50 million for democracy-building efforts and US$100 million to enhance US security cooperation with Ukraine.

But the bill faces a tough journey in the full Senate, where it could be slowed by Republicans concerned with how to pay for an expansion of the International Monetary Fund's lending framework.

"This is going to be a little bit more difficult on our side of the aisle," said Republican Senator Bob Corker, who backed the measure and urged his party to support democracy and economic stability in Europe.

And the speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, said any Ukraine package containing IMF reforms would face a fight in his chamber.

"This IMF money isn't necessary for dealing with this Ukraine crisis that we see today," Boehner said.

Ukraine's interim prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who was welcomed to the White House by President Barack Obama, met with the panel's senators after their vote.

But he notably skipped a scheduled meeting with Boehner, whose office blamed the absence on "scheduling conflicts." In remarks to reporters, Yatsenyuk did not mention the IMF reforms, saying only that the loan guarantees, would be "a fast, real and concrete step" in stabilizing Ukraine's economy.

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