February 13, 2019 / 6:44 PM / 2 months ago

EXCLUSIVE-U.S. senators to again try to pass Russia sanctions bill

WASHINGTON, Feb 13 (Reuters) - U.S. Republican and Democratic senators on Wednesday will introduce a bill seeking to punish Russia for meddling in U.S. elections and for its aggression in Ukraine by imposing sanctions on its banking, energy sector and foreign debt.

The bill will be introduced by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez and is a tougher version of the one the two lawmakers backed last year but which failed to pass, Menendez’s office said. The bill has been seen by Reuters.

Among other things, it would impose sanctions on Russian banks that support efforts to interfere in foreign elections, sanction Russian liquefied natural gas projects outside of Russia, sanction the country’s cyber sector, impose sanctions on new sovereign debt and sanction individuals deemed to “facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”

The bill would have to pass Congress and be signed by President Donald Trump before becoming law. Trump has gone along with increasing sanctions on Russia, though sometimes reluctantly.

U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and Moscow’s possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Russia has denied interfering in the election and Trump has called Mueller’s probe a witch hunt.

Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Congress wanted action to respond to the humanitarian disaster in Syria, where Russia backs President Bashar al-Assad, Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine “and the steady erosion of international norms.”

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

Graham, a leading Republican congressional foreign policy voice is a Trump ally who called last year’s legislation “the sanctions bill from hell.” He said he was determined to send a strong message to Moscow.

“Our goal is to change the status quo and impose meaningful sanctions and measures against Putin’s Russia,” Graham said in an email to Reuters. “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.” (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner Editing by Paul Simao)

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