Graham, Menendez Reintroduce ‘Sanctions Bill From Hell’ Against Russia

Dimitri Simes | February 25, 2019 | 11:57am EST
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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
(Getty Images)

( -- Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) reintroduced a “sanctions bill from hell,” as Graham termed it, targeting the Russian leadership and key sectors of the country’s economy on February 13.

In a press release announcing the bill, Senator Graham described the aim of the new sanctions as punishing Russia for interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections, backing separatists in Ukraine, and supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Our goal is to change the status quo and impose meaningful sanctions and measures against Putin’s Russia,” said Graham. “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.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin.  (Getty Images) 

Democrats sponsoring the bill argued that Congress could not trust President Donald Trump to formulate U.S. foreign policy towards Russia. During a Senate Floor speech on Feb. 7, Senator Menendez speculated whether Trump “is an asset of the Russian government.”

He concluded that “this Administration’s deference to the Kremlin demands Congress be proactive in shaping U.S. foreign policy toward Russia, especially with respect to sanctions.”

The bill, entitled the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019, will impose a wide range of sanctions on Russia, if passed. DASKA would target the Russian oil and gas industry, the country’s cyber sector, its sovereign debt, members of Putin’s inner circle, and banks involved in efforts to “undermine democratic institutions in other countries.”

It would also impose several requirements on the State Department. DASKA calls for reports investigating Putin’s wealth, the 2013 assassination of opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, and whether to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terror.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)  (Getty Images)

Finally, the legislation would make it impossible for the United States to exit NATO without approval from a Senate supermajority. Trump has long been critical of the alliance, charging that many of its members do not spend enough on defense.

Graham and Menendez first introduced the DASKA last August. At the time, Senator Graham touted the legislation as a “sanctions bill from hell.” Yet, despite widespread bipartisan displeasure with Moscow, the bill did not gain traction.

As of the writing of this piece, Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) are also sponsors of the bill.


Russian leadership offered a dismissive reaction to the new sanctions. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called DASKA “senseless.”  Likewise, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov declared, “The United States is shooting itself in the foot.”

Peter Harrell, adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counter Threat Finance and Sanctions, told that the sanctions contained in DASKA could potentially “have a significant impact on the Russian economy, particularly over the mid- and longer-term.” He believes the sanctions targeting Russia’s energy industry and oligarchs close to Putin could lower Russia’s oil productions and unnerve investors.

However, Harrell emphasized that DASKA’s effectiveness is largely contingent on the degree to which the Trump administration chooses to support it.

“As with any sanction where the intended impact is supposed to kick-in over time, the impact will only be felt if it appears that the executive branch is actually committed to implementing and enforcing the sanctions,” he stressed.

Yet even if DASKA succeeds in creating economic pain for Russia, it may fail to meaningfully shift the Kremlin’s foreign policy calculus. Robert Legvold, the Marshall D. Shulman Professor Emeritus of Post-Soviet Foreign Policy at Columbia University, predicted that new sanctions are unlikely to deter Moscow.

“As has been the experience since the first U.S. and EU sanctions in 2014, the effect on Russian foreign policy behavior will almost certainly be close to zero--other than perhaps encouraging initiatives that the Russian leadership believes may be disruptive in U.S. relations with its European allies,” Legvold said.

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