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House passes bill revoking normal trade relations with Russia, Belarus

On its way to the Senate now, the legislation paves the way for the U.S. to raise tariffs on both countries.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The House passed legislation Thursday to revoke normal trade relations with Russia, the latest move by Washington to suffocate the Russian economy over the invasion of Ukraine.

The Suspending Normal Trade Relations with Russia and Belarus Act, which would end current trade agreements with Russia and Belarus, passed the chamber by a bipartisan vote of 424-8. Allowing the U.S. to raise tariffs, the bill deals a blow to Russia's already suffering economy while also punishing Belarus for its allegiance to the Kremlin.

President Joe Biden had announced last week that the U.S., European Union and G-7 would be revoking permanent normal trade relations with Russia. In order for that declaration to become law in the U.S., however, it required congressional action.

If passed by the Senate, Russia and Belarus would be put in the same trade relations category as North Korea and Cuba.

"The legislation that has passed today represents an intense action to further isolate Russia and decimate its economy," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said on the House floor Thursday afternoon.

The vote signified a rare moment of bipartisan unity among lawmakers who heard directly from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the atrocities of Russia's war on Ukraine on Thursday.

"This bill takes an important step to defund American revenue that would fund the Russian war machine. It takes an important bipartisan step forward to make sure that Russian products don't enter in the U.S. with the same treatment that the invaded country, Ukraine's, products come to the United States," Representative Kevin Brady, a Republican from Texas, said.

Targeting Belarus has become a focus of the Biden administration in recent days, with the U.S. announcing sanctions earlier this week that targeted Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and his wife.

A close ally of Russian President Valdimir Putin, Lukashenko has offered aid to the Russian military and allowed Russia to station troops in Belarus, attacking Ukraine from its borders.

"Under the leadership of President Lukashenko, Belarus allowed Russians to place ballistic rockets and shell fellow Slavs, Orthodox Christians in Ukraine for weeks. People of Belarus need to understand that their leader is part of what is happening in this genocide in Ukraine. And we cannot create a loophole where Putin is going to use Belarus to funnel money through there," Representative Victoria Spartz, a Republican from Indiana and the first Ukrainian-born member of the House, said on the chamber floor.

In addition to issuing sanctions, the bill expands the scope of the Global Magnistsky Human Rights Accountablity Act, legislation created in 2012 that lays out guidelines for enforcing sanctions against countries and people who commit crimes of human rights abuses or engage in substantial corruption.

Changes to the act would allow presidential sanctions in any case of human rights abuses, broadening the definitions for when the executive can levy international penalties on foreign countries and leaders.

Some Republicans, including Spartz and Representative Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin, expressed concern that the expansion of the act's scope is overly broad and gives too much power to the executive to decide what actions are punishable by sanctions.

The House passed legislation last week banning Russian oil imports that also included alterations to the Magnitsky Act, but lawmakers decided to attach the changes to the trade relations bill as well.

Since Biden signed an executive order earlier this month banning Russian gas and oil imports, the need for the Senate to pass the oil ban has deteriorated. Including the Magnitsky Act changes in the trade-relations bill gives the alterations a new path to make it through the Senate and on to final passage.

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Categories / Financial, International, National, Politics

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