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US senators to try again with tougher Russia sanctions bill

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, left, listens as then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter testifies on the Defense Department's proposed fiscal year 2017 budget before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C., March 17, 2016. (Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz/Department of Defense)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill on February 13 that would impose drastic new sanctions on Russia over its meddling in U.S. elections and aggression against Ukraine.

The bill, the latest congressional effort to push President Donald Trump to ratchet up Washington’s response to Moscow, was introduced by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, as well as other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Menendez said lawmakers were determined to take action in response to Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine, the humanitarian crisis in Syria, where Moscow backs President Bashar al-Assad, “and the steady erosion of international norms.”

“One thing is increasingly clear: Moscow will continue to push until it meets genuine resistance,” Menendez said.

Graham, a vocal supporter of the president but also a hawk on Russia, said in a statement that “our goal is to change the status quo and impose meaningful sanctions and measures against [President Vladimir] Putin’s Russia.”

“He should cease and desist meddling in the U.S. electoral process, halt cyberattacks on American infrastructure, remove Russia from Ukraine, and stop efforts to create chaos in Syria,” Graham added.

The measure is a tougher version of legislation the two lawmakers backed last year but which failed to pass in the Senate, which has a Republican majority.

The new bill may have a better chance of passing Congress now, either as a whole or as amendments to other legislation, in the face of growing bipartisan anger over Moscow’s interference in other countries’ affairs.

“President Trump’s willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression has reached a boiling point in Congress,” Menendez said in a statement.

The legislation sets out sanctions that would target Russian banks that support efforts to interfere in foreign elections; and individuals deemed to “facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of Putin.”

It would also include strict measures against Russia’s oil and gas sector, including imposing sanctions against people who provide goods, services, or financing to support the development of crude oil in the country.

Trump would have to sign the bill before it became law.

In 2017, Congress passed a sanctions law known as CAATSA, with strong support from both Democrats and Republicans who overruled Trump’s reluctance to impose punitive measures on Moscow.