WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is pushing new legislation that would cement into U.S. law the sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.
The legislation, introduced January 10, could make it harder for the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump to lift the sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama following the 2014 annexation.
The sponsors of the measure include 10 Republican and Democratic senators, which gives it more of a chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate. A similar measure is being drafted in the House of Representatives.
The bill would also fortify the sanctions Obama announced last month against Russian government officials and entities accused of carrying out a hacking campaign to influence the U.S. presidential election.
"We should all be alarmed by Russian attacks on our nation," said Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona), one of the leading critics of Russia in Congress and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Many Republican lawmakers have been critical of the Obama administration for not doing more sooner to respond to Russian hacking. McCain asserted that Obama's actions had emboldened Moscow over the years.
"This appearance of weakness has been provocative to our adversaries," McCain said.
Other items in the bill call for setting up a unit within the Treasury Department's financial crimes offices to target illicit money trails linked to Russia. The legislation also mandates sanctions in Russia's energy sector and on investments in the development of civil nuclear projects.
The legislation comes one day before Trump's nominee for secretary of state is set to face his first Senate confirmation hearing.
Rex Tillerson has voiced a more conciliatory approach to Russia and expressed doubts about the Ukraine-related sanctions.
The punitive measures hurt ExxonMobil, the global oil giant where Tillerson previously served as CEO.
"I think you're going to find that there's going to be a great deal of interest as to whether Mr. Tillerson understands that he is no longer going to be CEO of ExxonMobil but that he's going to be secretary of state, the nation's top diplomat," Senator Ben Cardin (Democrat-Maryland) told reporters.
Obama used executive orders to target Russia with several waves of Ukraine-related sanctions that Trump could undo immediately upon becoming president on January 20.
The text of the legislation was not immediately available. But Cardin was quoted by Politico as saying that the bill could include a national security waiver commonly included in sanctions legislation.
That would allow the president to waive sanctions if doing so is deemed to be in the U.S. national interest.