Senate Overwhelmingly Approves New Sanctions To "Punish" Russia

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The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved new sanctions to punish Russia for “meddling” in the 2016 election.

The bipartisan legislation, which passed with an overwhelming 97-2 vote, slaps new sanctions on Russia and restricts President Trump from easing them in the future without first receiving congressional approval. The only two senators to vote against the measure were Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY), while Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) abstained. 

Known as the Crapo Amendment, after Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, the measure was endorsed by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Maryland). The deal was attached to an Iran sanctions bill that is expected to pass later this week. While top Republican senators had initially wanted to give the White House space to try improving U.S.-Russia relations, but ultimately decided talks with Russia have been moving too slowly.

The sanctions against Russia are “in response to the violation of the territorial integrity of the Ukraine and Crimea, its brazen cyber-attacks and interference in elections, and its continuing aggression in Syria,” according to the deal’s sponsors.

The amendment also allows “broad new sanctions on key sectors of Russia’s economy, including mining, metals, shipping and railways” and authorizes “robust assistance to strengthen democratic institutions and counter disinformation across Central and Eastern European countries that are vulnerable to Russian aggression and interference.”

New sanctions would be imposed on “corrupt Russian actors” and those “involved in serious human rights abuses,” anyone supplying weapons to the Syrian government or working with Russian defense industry or intelligence, as well as “those conducting malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government” and “those involved in corrupt privatization of state-owned assets.”

The biggest neocon in Congress, John McCain, was delighted with the outcome: “We must take our own side in this fight. Not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) before the vote. “It’s time to respond to Russia’s attack on American democracy with strength, with resolve, with common purpose, and with action.”

As AP adds, lawmakers took action against Russia in the absence of a forceful response from President Donald Trump. While the president has sought to improve relations with Moscow and rejected the implication that Russian hacking of Democratic emails tipped the election his way, non-stop “anonymous sources” have repeatedly leaked “news” to the NYT and WaPo, suggesting Trump colluded with Russia and/or was being probed by the FBI. Following Comey’s testimony, which confirmed there is no “there” there, the media attacks against Trump have shifted, and now accuse the president of obstruction of justice and interference with the FBI’s investigation into Mike Flynn.

Speaking earlier on Wednesday, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said told reporters the Kremlin will hold out with its reaction until the U.S. decides on new sanctions against Russia.

“We wouldn’t like to enter this sanctions spiral again. But that’s not our choice.”  Indeed, and with the US having made Russia’s choice for them, we now look for Moscow’s response.

Incidentally, earlier this week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told lawmakers that US allies around the world had asked Washington to improve relations with Russia, and warned that further measures against Moscow could hinder ongoing progress in the fight against terrorism in Syria.

“I have yet to have a bilateral, one-on-one, a poolside conversation with a single counterpart in any country: in Europe, Middle East, even South-East Asia, that has not said to me: please, address your relationship with Russia, it has to be improved,” Tillerson said on Tuesday, testifying before the Senate appropriations subcommittee about the proposed State Department budget.

Unfortunately, for the US Military Industrial Complex, which stands to profit only in times of (near) war, a detente with Russia, or any other nation for that matter, is not an option.

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