Senate Draws Up Bill to Impose More Sanctions on Russia

By Byron Tau Features Dow Jones Newswires

The Senate late Monday evening unveiled a package of additional economic sanctions on Russia, aiming to punish Moscow for its military activities in Europe and the Middle East as well as its alleged attempts to interfere in democratic elections across the West.

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A bipartisan group of senators said the new legislation would impose new restrictions on Russian actors linked to human-rights abuses, arms sales to the Syrian government or malicious cyberattacks on behalf of the Russian government.

The bill would also require the president to seek congressional permission to relax the current regime of sanctions against Russia, possibly limiting President Donald Trump's leeway to improve relations between Washington and Moscow.

The sanctions package was hammered out by the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Banking and Foreign Relations Committees and could set up an unusual showdown between Congress and President Trump's administration.

Mr. Trump has been said to be leaning toward keeping the sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in place on Russia. But the new proposal would limit his ability to act without congressional approval. Sanctions imposed by Congress and written into law have traditionally been stronger and harder to repeal than ones imposed by presidential administrations using executive orders.

The key outlines of the deal were described in broad terms in a press release issued late Monday, with more details expected this week. The proposed legislation would also allow the U.S. to impose broad new sanctions on economic sectors in Russia including mining, metals, shipping and railways. The proposed bill also grants new assistance to help shore up democratic institutions across the West, which have been targeted by a series of cyberattacks, propaganda and misinformation campaigns.

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The bill comes after weeks of controversy in the nation's capital over charges of Russian interference in the 2016 election. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in January that the Russian government conducted an influence campaign to support Mr. Trump over his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, using hacked emails and propaganda to influence U.S. domestic politics.

The Russian government has denied any involvement in the hacks, though Russian President Vladimir Putin recently suggested that Russian "patriotic" hackers may have been behind the cyberintrusions that affected Western elections.

"These additional sanctions will also send a powerful and bipartisan statement to Russia and any other country who might try to interfere in our elections that they will be punished," said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader in the Senate.

Senators also cited Russia's 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea as well as Russia's ongoing military operations in Syria as a reason for additional sanctions.

The U.S. instituted sanctions against Russia during the crisis over the Crimean peninsula in 2014, mostly aimed at crippling Russia's energy sector. Former President Barack Obama shortly before leaving office also levied additional sanctions in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The new sanctions package drawn up by the Senate this week will be attached as an amendment to a broader Iran sanctions bill that has bipartisan support. It is unclear whether the U.S. House of Representatives will include Russian sanctions in their version of the Iran bill.

The Russian sanctions would need to be passed by both houses of Congress to become law. The White House didn't respond for a request for comment on whether Mr. Trump would sign a bill containing new Russia sanctions.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 13, 2017 00:51 ET (04:51 GMT)