World Politics

'Insane,' 'racketeering' and 'reckless': Russia's reactions to tougher US sanctions

Key Points
  • Russia has rebuked proposals from U.S. senators for tougher sanctions on its banking and energy sectors, with Kremlin officials calling them "insane", "reckless" and tantamount to "racketeering."
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that the measures were like "racketeering attacks."
  • Other officials said the proposals were "insane."
Russia's President Vladimir Putin listens while U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in Helsinki, Finland.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images

Russia has rebuked proposals from U.S. senators for tougher sanctions on its banking and energy sectors, with Kremlin officials calling them "insane", "reckless" and tantamount to "racketeering."

Commenting on a new bill proposed by U.S. legislators on Wednesday to introduce a range of tougher sanctions on Russia, for its meddling in the 2016 election and aggressive actions towards Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that the measures were like "racketeering attacks."

"The government has already developed and adopted a number of effective measures to hedge against such possible racketeering attacks," Peskov said, Russian news agency Tass reported, when responding to the question about the impact of possible new U.S. sanctions for the Russian economy.

"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," Peskov stressed.

The 'bone-rattling' bill

Russia's reaction comes after a bipartisan group of U.S. senators have renewed their efforts to impose new sanctions on Russia by proposing a bill Wednesday called the "Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA)" of 2019.

Basically an updated version of a previous bill that failed to muster enough support, the proposed legislation seeks to increase economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Russia "in response to Russia's interference in democratic processes abroad, malign influence in Syria, and aggression against Ukraine, including in the Kerch Strait," said Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who proposed the bill with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and several other lawmakers.

The bill proposes a range of enhanced sanctions on Russia, both for its "interference in democratic institutions abroad" and "aggression in Ukraine."

Among the measures are proposals to put sanctions on Russian banks "that support Russian efforts to undermine democratic institutions in other countries," sanctions on its cyber sector, sovereign debt and on political figures and other persons that "facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of Vladimir Putin."

It also would include sanctions on investment in Russian LNG projects outside of Russia. A separate series of sanctions, targeting energy projects and its shipbuilding sector, would be related to Kremlin "aggression in Ukraine." Senators also called for "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 aims to put pressure on President Trump to beef up Washington's pressure on Moscow. Last year, similar legislation failed to pass in the Senate which has a Republican majority.

Self-harm for the US

Needless to say, Russia isn't happy with the proposals although its signaled that it was already preparing for more punitive measures.

Russian Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev called the proposal a "bone-rattling bill" and the proposed sanctions as "insane and reckless." Others said Russia was prepared and ready to cope.

The effect of further sanctions would likely be less than those already in operation, according to the Bank of Russia's first deputy chairman who was reported as saying that Russia has "quite a lot of experience in such conditions."

The head of Russia's sovereign wealth fund, Kirill Dmitriev, told Tass Thursday that the measures would "actually harm the United States in the long term because many countries leave the dollar showing that sanctions are an ineffective tool. It is now impossible to predict the details, as it will still be discussed, but, of course, I think that more and more people understand, including those in the United States, that the sanctions tool does not work and only harms American strategic interest," Dmitriev said.

Russia's Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Thursday that Russia was preparing itself for more sanctions. "Of course, sanctions aren't pleasant, but Russia has taken measures to respond to them," Siluanov told reporters in Moscow.

Wilful paralysis?

The sanctions that the U.S. has already imposed on Russia in recent years have put President Trump in a difficult position.

He has tried to cultivate better relations with his Russian counterpart - President Putin - but the relationship has been dogged by Russia's actions towards its neighbor Ukraine, the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the U.K., its military support of Syrian President Bashar Assad and investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The ongoing investigation into possible collusion between Trump's team and Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 election, which both sides vehemently deny, has also led to heightened focus on how Trump treats Putin.

Senator Menendez said Wednesday that Trump had not done enough to counter Russia's malign influence.

Experts say the passage of DASKAA is a challenge. "Senators are likely to use the legislation as leverage, to prod the administration to impose new sanctions under its existing authority. This happened throughout 2018," Alex Brideau, Eurasia director at Eurasia Group said in a note Thursday.

"Members of Congress reportedly are impatient with the slow movement on a second round of sanctions under the 1991 chemical weapons law for the nerve agent poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the U.K.. But the Senate would also likely demand additional action throughout the year," he noted.

"Passage of DASKAA is a bigger challenge. It requires coordination with the House, and congressional leaders may prefer a veto-proof majority to lower the chance of a fight with the White House. Furthermore, support from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is critical, and not assured. He will control whether the sanctions law gets a vote on the Senate floor."