Senators Unveil Bipartisan 'Crushing' Sanctions Package on Russia

President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at the Main Naval Parade in St. Petersburg on July 29, 2018. (Mikhael Klimentyev/Sputnik via AP)

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators introduced deep sanctions on Russia today in response to the Kremlin’s continued interference in the 2018 campaign cycle and nefarious activities in Syria and Ukraine.

The Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2018 is sponsored by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

“Unless Russia fundamentally changes its behavior, we must not repeat the mistakes of past Administrations of trying to normalize relations with a nation that continues to pose a serious threat to the United States and our allies,” said Gardner.

It rolls in another bipartisan bill from Gardner, McCain, and Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) that would require two-thirds of the Senate to approve any presidential effort to withdraw from NATO. It also includes provisions “expediting the transfer of excess defense articles to NATO countries to reduce some NATO countries’ dependence on Russian military equipment.”

The bill would establish an Office of Cyberspace and the Digital Economy within the State Department to “lead diplomatic efforts relating to international cybersecurity, Internet access, Internet freedom, the digital economy, cybercrime, deterrence and responses to cyber threats.” Also created would be a National Fusion Center to Respond to Hybrid Threats. Foreign nationals who have interfered in U.S. elections would be inadmissible to the United States under election law.

Also rolled in are the International Cybercrime Prevention Act, which would crack down on bots and create a new criminal violation for cybercriminals targeting critical infrastructure, and the Defending the Integrity of Voting Systems Act that would let the Justice Department pursue any hacking of voting systems with federal charges. The bill includes legislation from Gardner and Menendez that would require a review on whether Russia should join Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria as designated state sponsors of terror.

The legislation also includes new sanctions on individuals tied to the Putin regime, sanctions on Russian energy projects, new cybercrime sector-specific sanctions, a block on Americans’ involvement in certain Russia cyber projects, and reporting requirements for certain high-dollar real-estate transactions.

The bill requires “a report on the net worth and assets of Vladimir Putin,” who could be worth $70 billion to $200 billion.

“With the passage of this legislation, Congress will once again act to establish a clear U.S. policy to hold Russia accountable with one clear message: Kremlin aggression will be met with consequences that will shake Putin’s regime to its foundation,” Menendez said.

Graham said that the “current sanctions regime has failed to deter Russia from meddling in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections” and “crushing sanctions and other measures against Putin’s Russia” should be imposed “until he ceases and desists meddling in the US electoral process, halts cyber-attacks on US infrastructure, removes Russia from Ukraine, and ceases efforts to create chaos in Syria.”

“We must confront this challenge — not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans,” McCain said. “Because ultimately, Putin’s true aim is to undermine all of us — our country, our freedom, and all that America stands for.”