Congress moves to downgrade trade ties with Russia

The US Senate voted unanimously to scrap Moscow’s ‘most favored nation’ status and codify a ban on Russian oil

American lawmakers have passed legislation to end favorable trade relations with Russia and halt all oil imports from the country, with the Senate fully united in its vote and only a few stray representatives dissenting in the House.

Senators voted 100-0 on Thursday to end permanent normal trade ties with Moscow – known as the ‘most favored nation’ status – also greenlighting a previous White House order to bar Russian energy shipments. Both bills were advanced in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine in late February.

“No nation whose military is committing war crimes deserves free trade status with the United States,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said before the votes.

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The trade bill also ended normal trade relations with Belarus, a close Russian ally that has a role in the military operations in Ukraine. Russian troops used Belarusian territory to stage an offensive on Kiev from the north during the early weeks of the conflict.

Though the House had already passed the measures, changes made by the Senate compelled another vote. Congress reapproved both bills overwhelmingly later on Thursday, with the trade proposal passed in a 413-3 vote and the energy ban approved 413-9. Most of the ‘no’ votes came from Republicans, though Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar (Minnesota) and Cori Bush (Missouri) opposed the embargo on Russian imports.

The ‘most favored nation’ status is designed to offer equal trading terms to other countries and avoid discriminatory tariffs. Before Thursday’s vote, only Cuba and North Korea were exempted from the designation.

Some US allies have taken similar steps in recent weeks, with Canada becoming the first to do so in early March. The European Union is now considering whether to do the same, having already greenlit a full embargo on Russian energy imports in a non-binding resolution earlier on Thursday.

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