While the White House remains reluctant to even criticize Russia publicly, Congress has taken another step toward ratcheting up pressure on Moscow following its efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The latest move came Thursday, when a bipartisan group of senators introduced a new package of potential sanctions on Russia. Entitled “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2018,” the proposed legislation — which not only expands sanctions and entrenches the U.S.’s role in NATO, but targets Russian President Vladimir Putin personally — presents a significant move toward potential blowback for Moscow.
The package, according to Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), one of the bill’s co-authors, would impose “crushing sanctions” on Russia, with the proposed sanctions presenting the “most hard-hitting ever imposed” on the Kremlin. Added Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), another of the bill’s co-authors, the legislation “sends a strong message of unity and deterrence against the Kremlin, while closing security gaps that leave our nation and its citizens vulnerable.”
Indeed, the package appears to be one of the most comprehensive efforts thus far to not only impose costs on the Kremlin, but to undercut some of the primary tools autocrats and kleptocrats have used in the U.S. over the past few years to hide their money. Among the proposals in the legislation are further sanctions on Russian nationals or companies aiding in Russian cyber attacks; new sanctions on those close to Putin; and even a formal report on Putin’s net worth and total assets. Notably, the bill also suggests sanctioning transactions relating to any new sovereign debt from Russia — a move the Treasury Department has recommended against in the past.
Whatever Putin thought he was going to achieve in Helsinki, it backfired on him big time. New sanctions bill introduced in US Senate will “Impose crushing sanctions..against Putin’s Russia” Senator Lindsey Graham https://t.co/2Ff6bc9PKt
— Bill Browder (@Billbrowder) August 3, 2018
The proposed legislation would also clamp down on anonymous buyers snapping up luxury real estate across the U.S., a favorite practice of money launderers, both domestic and international. The language in the bill — which would force title insurance companies to identify the beneficial owners behind the luxury real estate purchases — builds on other recent proposals to expand corporate transparency, at both federal and state levels.
But the proposed legislation isn’t limited to sanctions or shell company transparency alone. It further calls for the formation of both a “National Fusion Center to Respond to Hybrid Threats” and “Office of Cyberspace and the Digital Economy,” the latter of which would be housed within the State Department, and provides additional resources for prosecutors to shut down malicious botnets online.
The proposed legislation would also effectively remove the White House’s ability to unilaterally remove the U.S. from NATO, as Trump has hinted in the past. As Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), another of the bill’s co-authors, summarized, the legislation provides a “strong statement of support for NATO and a requirement for two-thirds of the United States Senate to vote to leave NATO.” The bill further eases the process of providing excess American military equipment to NATO allies.
While the bill hasn’t passed — it will face a “rough ride,” reported the Financial Times, namely from Republican legislators who have likewise stalled on providing extra election-protection funding — it nonetheless represents a markedly strong statement from Congress. Following on the heels of last year’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was passed by the Senate 98-2 and further escalated the U.S.’s sanctions regime on Russia, this week’s proposed legislation illustrates how isolated the White House, and especially Trump, remain when it comes to policy proposals deterring Moscow’s meddling efforts.