Speaking on Thursday, February 15, at the Russian Investment Forum in Sochi Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called U.S. lawmakers’ latest attempts to sanction Russia “just another schizoid story.”
Medvedev said that while the sanctions would affect Russia’s economy, they would not cause “any substantial damage,” adding Russia would continue to follow its path. He said, however, that sanctions are not helpful because “they slow down growth.”
Regarding the motivation behind the latest U.S. measures, Medvedev said they were not connected to bilateral relations, but rather a byproduct of “domestic problems in the United States.”
That is false.
On Wednesday, February 13, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, backed by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced an even tougher version of the so-called “sanctions from hell bill” that failed to pass last year.
The reintroduction of the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act targets Russia for interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and military intervention in Ukraine.
Broadly speaking, the bill seeks “to strengthen the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), to combat international cybercrime, and to impose additional sanctions with respect to the Russian Federation.”
Under the bill, U.S. persons would be prohibited from “engaging in transactions with, providing financing, or in any other way dealing in Russian sovereign debt.” The bill would also prohibit “transactions in all property and interests in property” in a number of Russian financial institutions for their interference in foreign elections.
The targeted banks include Vnesheconombank, Sberbank, VTB Bank, Gazprombank, Bank of Moscow, Rosselkhozbank and Promsvyazbank.
The ban on dealing in Russian sovereign debt also covers bonds issued by Russia’s Central Bank, National Wealth Fund and the Federal Treasury of the Russian Federation, along with “agents or affiliates of any of those entities.” Foreign exchange swap agreements with those institutions will also be prohibited.
The bill also targets Russia’s cyber sector, individuals deemed to “facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin” and the country’s oil and gas sector. Specifically, it bars the provision of goods, services, technology, financing or support that could “directly and significantly contribute to” the development or production of crude oil resources in the Russian Federation.”
The bill would require an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Senate to withdraw from NATO. It addresses Russia’s “abuse and misuse" of INTERPOL’s red notices, orders a determination of whether Russia meets the criteria for designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, extends limitations on imports of uranium form Russia and establishes a “National Fusion Center” to counter hybrid threats posed by the Russian government.
The bill also seeks to compel U.S. President Donald Trump to “publicly call for” Russia to return the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine, to end its support for separatist violence in eastern Ukraine, to end its occupation of, and support for, separatists on the territory of Georgia and Moldova, and “cease enabling the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria to commit war crimes. It further calls on Trump to “unequivocally condemn and counter the ongoing interference in United States institutions and democratic processes by the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, his government, and affiliates of his government."
Menendez said the sanctions bill was reintroduced because Congress had reached a "boiling point" on Trump's "willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression,” The Hill reported.
"We are introducing a proposal to actually address the realities of the Kremlin threat in a holistic way, all while sending a crystal clear message to our adversaries that the U.S Congress will protect our institutions, allies and values even if the President chooses not to do so,” Menendez said.
The reintroduction of the bill comes as the U.S. State Department has been accused of passing the buck on its congressionally-mandated obligation to hold Russia accountable for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England on March 4, 2018.
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, also on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN: “Too often, the Trump administration resorts to foot dragging when it comes to holding foreign powers accountable, particularly Russia.”
She added: “The Kremlin used a nerve agent on NATO soil — it's hard to overstate how brazen this behavior is. There's overwhelming bipartisan agreement that the Kremlin should pay a heavy price and the law is crystal clear in this respect. It's time for some follow through."
It is worth noting that the sanctions bill's main sponsorship is bipartisan. The Republican who introduced the measure, Sen. Lindsey Graham, is often seen as aligned with Trump's policies, and also enjoys praise from the president.
In an Oval Office interview with a group of reporters in early February, President Trump reportedly confirmed Graham's influence, referring to Graham as among, "People I respect, I listen to."
While Medvedev is correct that the implementation of sanctions against Russia has been subject to the vagaries of domestic U.S. politics, to state that they are purely a result of politics, and not Russian actions on the global stage, is false.