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As US election nears, Democrat senators submit bill to sanction Russia for bounties reportedly paid to Taliban

U.S. Marines disembark from a U.S. Army helicopter at Camp Bost in Afghanistan's Helmand Province, on October 29, 2017. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
September 12, 2020

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

A group of Democratic senators has introduced legislation to impose sanctions on any Russian individual or entity involved in a reported program to place bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

The six senators, led by Bob Menendez, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, submitted the Russia Bounty Act on September 10.

The draft legislation was introduced because U.S. Presdient Donald Trump’s “deference” to Russian leader Vladimir Putin “demands that Congress proactively shape U.S. foreign policy toward Russia, especially with respect to sanctions,” Menendez said in a statement.

The New York Times reported in June that a Russian military intelligence unit last year secretly offered bounties on U.S. and allied soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

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The report also claimed that Trump was briefed on the matter in March, before a series of calls with Putin, but did not call for a response, sparking outrage mainly among Democratic members of Congress.

Trump officials developed several possible responses, including making a formal diplomatic complaint and imposing new sanctions, according to The New York Times.

Trump has claimed his intelligence officials did not report the information to him or Vice President Mike Pence because it was not credible.

The president also said he would respond if it were confirmed.

Amid a tight presidential race, Democrats have seized on the news to slam Trump’s leadership and his attempts to improve relations with Russia, which was one of his stated foreign policy goals.

Trump, a Republican, is seeking reelection on November 3 against Democrat Joe Biden.

Besides imposing sanctions, the Russia Bounty Act also authorizes $50 million a year to individuals who provide information on Moscow-financed bounties against U.S. soldiers and $30 million a year to counter Kremlin influence in the region.

The legislation needs to pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate and be signed by the president in order to become law.

The Republicans currently control the Senate.