Tougher Russia Sanctions Measure Moves Ahead in U.S. Senate

  • Amendment would require review process to ease penalties
  • Senators insert sanctions into legislation punishing Iran

How Putin Became the Symbol of Russian Power

The Senate signaled it’s ready to expand sanctions against Russia amid a probe into its meddling in the U.S. presidential election, and to let Congress review any move by President Donald Trump to lift existing penalties.

The Senate on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly -- 97 to 2 -- to add the Russia measure to a bill sanctioning Iran for its work to develop ballistic missile technology, in a bipartisan rebuke to Trump’s suggestions about improving relations with Russia. A date hasn’t been set for a final vote on the full measure.

The legislation comes after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia sought to influence the American presidential election last year. Congressional committees and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are examining the Russian interference and whether there was any collusion with Trump’s campaign.

The Trump administration is reviewing the Senate measure, according to a White House official, who asked for anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The official said the administration is committed to keeping current sanctions in place until Moscow honors commitments it made over Ukraine and that the existing framework for sanctions is the best way to pressure Russia.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested Tuesday that the administration might oppose the Russia sanctions amendment. “What we would like is the flexibility," he told a Senate panel.

‘Cyber Activity’

Under the legislation, new sanctions could be levied on entities engaging in “malicious cyber activity." It would require the administration to explain any moves to ease or lift sanctions, and create a new mechanism for Congress to review and block any such effort.

The provision would put into law penalties that were imposed by the Obama administration on some Russian energy projects, a move in 2014 that came in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. It would also allow new sanctions on state-owned entities of the Russian economy, including mining, metal, shipping and railways. And it would ask the administration to prepare a study on the possible effects of expanding sanctions to cover sovereign debt and any derivative products.

Lawmakers advanced the measure just days after it was announced by Banking Chairman Mike Crapo of Idaho and Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee, as well as the ranking Democrats on the those panels, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Ben Cardin of Maryland.

“Most members of both parties are concerned about the president’s lack of interest in doing anything about the Russians," Brown said in an interview.

While backing Trump on most issues, leading Republicans such as Corker have challenged his assertion that he can make deals with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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