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House Democrat Caucus Proposes Russian Sanctions Compromise

The proposed legislation offers a compromise that its proponents hope can pass both houses. (file photo)
The proposed legislation offers a compromise that its proponents hope can pass both houses. (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- A group of Democrats in the House of Representatives has proposed a broad range of sanctions against Russia, including its sovereign debt and wealthiest citizens, to punish the Kremlin for interfering in U.S. elections.

The June 21 proposal combines pieces of legislation already submitted by Republican and Democratic members of Congress and offers a compromise that the group hopes can pass both houses.

The proposal also includes measures to enhance voting security and the transparency of online political ads.

The 27 House Democrats recommend sanctioning Russian liquefied natural gas projects abroad, Russian banks that support Kremlin efforts to undermine democracy, as well as the nation's cybersecurity industry.

They also propose sanctioning people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, including politicians, oligarchs, and their family members.

"Republicans and Democrats agree that a foreign adversary should never be able to sow discord in our political system and interfere in our electoral process. The United States must send a clear signal to the world that any attempt to undermine American democracy will be met with swift and severe consequences," the proposal stated.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller in March concluded that Russia carried out "multiple, systematic efforts" to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including through hacking and social-media manipulation.

Russia's interference has spawned 11 Congressional bills that seek to enhance and defend the U.S. electoral process while also punishing the country for its actions.

The Democrats control the House while the Republicans hold the Senate, slowing down passage of legislation that some say is urgent as the United States prepares for a new presidential election cycle culminating in the election in November 2020.

President Donald Trump officially kicked off his reelection campaign this week. The more than 20 Democrats seeking to challenge him will host a debate next week.

The United States has already imposed sanctions on some Russian companies and individuals for election interference. They followed earlier sanctions on Russian individuals and entities for Moscow's seizure of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and its support for the separatists holding parts of the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in a conflict that has killed some 13,000 people since April 2014.

'Well Telegraphed'

Congress has been considering stiffer measures -- such as sanctioning Russia's sovereign debt -- for years, giving the Kremlin time to prepare.

U.S. sanctions on Russian sovereign debt would prevent Western investors from buying the country's government bonds, reducing the Kremlin’s ability to finance expenditures.

"At this stage, Russia doesn’t need to access the markets the way they did three or four years ago. [The threat of sanctions] has been so well telegraphed that the Russian Central Bank and investors have been preparing for it," said Elina Ribakova, deputy chief economist at the Washington-based Institute of International Finance.
Russia’s total debt as a percentage of its gross domestic product has fallen in recent years to just 11 percent and the country now has a budget surplus.

Sanctions against Putin’s inner circle won't have a major impact either as many have been preparing for them as well by repatriating overseas assets, she said.

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    Todd Prince

    Todd Prince is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL based in Washington, D.C. He lived in Russia from 1999 to 2016, working as a reporter for Bloomberg News and an investment adviser for Merrill Lynch. He has traveled extensively around Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia.