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U.S. Congress steps into action on Ukraine

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[March 07, 2014]  By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters)  The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill backing $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine, the first formal response by U.S. lawmakers to the worst crisis in U.S.-Russia relations since the Cold War.

The measure passed in a 385-23 vote.

The U.S. Senate is expected to consider a similar bill next week. If passed as expected, it would be sent to the White House for President Barack Obama to sign into law.

House and Senate committees held hearings on Thursday at which administration officials testified about the situation in Ukraine following Russia's military incursion into its Crimea region.

Obama ordered sanctions on people responsible for Moscow's military intervention on Thursday, including travel bans and freezing of their U.S. assets. But Republicans said he has not done enough and that what they called his weak foreign policy had emboldened Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the administration had made a mistake by "thinking that someone like Putin reacts to warmth and charm and reachout."

"What he really reacts to is weakness and I think he has seen that in our foreign policy efforts over the course of this last year," Corker continued.

Republican lawmakers  and many Democrats  in both houses of Congress urged Obama to do more.

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The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a symbolic resolution responding to Russia's military incursion into Crimea. That measure condemns the violation of Ukraine's sovereignty by Russia, while calling for sanctions on Russian officials and state agencies.

"This resolution is one part of a larger effort to provide assistance to Ukraine and to impose real costs on Russia for its actions, which this committee is working on," U.S. Representative Ed Royce of California, the committee's Republican chairman, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Bill Trott)

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