WASHINGTON -- An influential bipartisan group of U.S. senators has introduced a package of measures designed to protect “American security from Kremlin aggression,” including new financial sanctions and a “strong statement of support” for NATO.
The bill introduced on August 2 represents at least the fourth piece of legislation circulating in Congress to punish Russia for its alleged interference in U.S. elections, its aggression in Ukraine and Syria, and other "malign" activities.
“The current sanctions regime has failed to deter Russia from meddling in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said in a statement introducing the bill.
“Our goal is to change the status quo and impose crushing sanctions and other measures against [President Vladimir] Putin’s Russia until he ceases and desists meddling in the U.S. electoral process, halts cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure, removes Russia from Ukraine, and ceases efforts to create chaos in Syria,” Graham said.
While Congress overwhelmingly passed a strong set of countermeasures last year, unfortunately the [Trump] administration has not fully complied with that legislation."-- U.S. Senator Robert Menendez
According to a statement issued by the senators, new sanctions would target “political figures, oligarchs, and family members and other persons that facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of Vladimir Putin.”
The bill would also require a report to be assembled on the personal net worth and assets of Putin, who many say has amassed great amounts of wealth as the Russia leader.
U.S. President Donald Trump has faced widespread criticism over his handling of a summit last month with Putin, with critics charging he did not challenge the Russian leader over alleged election meddling and other global issues.
Throughout his presidency, Trump has expressed his desire for better relations with Russia, and with Putin in particular, despite criticism that he has been too quick to go along with Kremlin policies. Trump has denied the allegations and said he has been tougher on Russia than any previous president.
Since the summit, Democrats and Republicans alike have pushed forward with tough new measures against Russia.
"Just as Vladimir Putin has made clear his intention to challenge American power, influence, and security interests at home and abroad, the United States must make it abundantly clear that we will defend our nation and not waver in our rejection of his effort to erode Western democracy as a strategic imperative for Russia’s future," Graham and Democrat Robert Menendez said in a joint statement on July 24 as they disclosed initial plans for the legislation.
Along with Graham and Menendez, Democrats Ben Cardin and Jeanne Shaheen and Republicans Cory Gardner and John McCain introduced the legislation on August 2.
Called the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2018, it includes “comprehensive legislation that will increase economic, political, and diplomatic pressure” on Russia in response to its “malign” activities.
“The sanctions and other measures contained in this bill are the most hard-hitting ever imposed -- and a direct result of Putin’s continued desire to undermine American democracy,” Graham said.
The senator said he agreed with recent comments by Trump’s director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, that “warning lights are blinking red when it comes to Russian meddling in the 2018 election.”
Menendez said Putin “continues to pose a growing threat to our country and allies” and criticized the White House for lack of action.
“While Congress overwhelmingly passed a strong set of countermeasures last year, unfortunately, the administration has not fully complied with that legislation,” he added.
He said the legislation is aimed at "tightening the screws on the Kremlin and will bring to bear the full condemnation of the United States Congress so that Putin finally understands that the U.S. will not tolerate his behavior any longer."
The legislation also declares a “strong statement of support for NATO” that would include a requirement of a two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate before the United States could leave the Western military alliance.
Many U.S. political and military leaders, along with foreign allies, have criticized Trump’s tough stance toward NATO allies and have expressed fears he might move to pull the country out of the alliance.
The bill would also increase U.S. defenses against illegal cyberactivities and secure U.S. voting systems amid allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and fears it will meddle in the upcoming November midterm vote.
It is not certain if the legislation will pass the Senate and House in its current form. However, the Senate has passed similar tough measures against Russia with overwhelming support.
The White House did not immediately comment specifically on the proposed legislation.
But hours later, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, told a briefing at the White House that Russia is continuing to use “pervasive methods” to exploit and intensify differences in U.S. society and that the intelligence community remains concerned about U.S. election security.
"We continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States," Coats told the joint briefing with other intelligence agency leaders, including FBI Director Christopher Wray and national security adviser John Bolton.
Coats said he would support any type of measure, including sanctions, to send a message to Russia to get them to change their behavior.