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Kremlin slams new U.S. sanctions as 'racketeering'

By
Clyde Hughes
A view of the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. A group of U.S. senators introduced new sanctions against Moscow for activities in Ukraine and Syria. File Photo by Pat Benic/UPI
A view of the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. A group of U.S. senators introduced new sanctions against Moscow for activities in Ukraine and Syria. File Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 14 (UPI) -- A bipartisan group of U.S. senators promised new sanctions against Russia for activities in Syria and Ukraine -- a move that drew stern condemnation from the Kremlin Thursday.

The sanctions seek to punish Russia for an incident in the Kerch Strait last fall where it detained Ukrainian military vessels and sailors. Russia said the vessels entered its territorial water illegally, an accusation Kiev disputed.

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The bill also criticizes Russia for supporting the Syrian government in the country's long-running civil war.

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Cory Gardner joined Democrats Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire in introducing the bill.

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"Trump's willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression has reached a boiling point in Congress," Menendez said in a statement Wednesday.

"[Russian President Vladimir] Putin's actions cannot be tolerated, and the consequences of inaction are quickly compounding -- further humanitarian disaster in Syria, regional instability, kidnapping of Ukrainian sailors and seizure of ships, and the steady erosion of international norms," he added.

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Graham, noting Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election, called on Moscow to "cease and desist" cyberattacks aimed at the United States and end its efforts in Syria.

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"The sanctions and measures we propose are designed to respond in the strongest possible fashion," Graham said.

The bill calls for wide-ranging sanctions against Russian banks, investments outside of Russia, its cyber sector, sovereign debts and political figures, "oligarchs, and family members and other persons that facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of Vladimir Putin."

It also called on the Senate to give full support to NATO and create a cyberspace and digital economy office to lead diplomatic efforts for cybersecurity, Internet access and online freedom.

The Kremlin reacted in stern fashion Thursday, saying the bill amounts to "racketeering."

"This policy sometimes borders on racketeering. I mean various provisions of the draft law aimed at disrupting various energy projects of Russian companies, undermining the activities of Russian banks with state participation," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state-run TASS news agency.

"The [Russian] government has already developed and adopted a number of effective measures to hedge against such possible racketeering attacks," he said.

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