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Senator John MacCain; War in Syria. Photo supplied
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Neocon US senators push sanctions bill ‘from hell’ against Russia

A US bill was introduced in the Senate on Thursday, widely described as a new set of "crushing" sanctions against Russia. The proposed legislation includes a State Department assessment aimed at designating Russia as a "state sponsor of terrorism".

Published: August 3, 2018, 9:16 am

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    Predictably, the leading two Neoconservative Republicans John McCain, and Lindsey Graham are at the forefront on the latest punitive measures against the Russian Federation.

    The US should “impose crushing sanctions and other measures against Putin’s Russia until he ceases and desists meddling in the US electoral process, halts cyber-attacks on US infrastructure, removes Russia from Ukraine, and ceases efforts to create chaos in Syria,” according a statement issued by Graham.

    But the “chaos” in Syria has been significantly reduced with Russian support: The Syrian Arab Army campaign in southwest Syria has been advancing steadily with large areas held by “rebels” and ISIS just six weeks ago, now liberated. Talks of the return of Syrian refugees have also been initiated with the German and French governments.

    The extreme new restrictions target energy ventures, oil projects, uranium imports and sovereign debt transactions. Several Russian political figures and oligarchs are also in the cross hairs of the American military hawks.

    Graham said earlier the bill would include everything but “the kitchen sink”. It also expresses particularly strong support for NATO since two-thirds of the Senate would be required to vote in favor of any move to leave the alliance.

    Known as the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2018, it will impose new sanctions on “political figures, oligarchs, and family members”. The bill has been called the “next step in tightening the screws on the Kremlin” so Putin understands “that the US will not tolerate his behavior any longer”.

    Senator John McCain said in his statement: “Until Putin pays a serious price for his actions, these attacks on our democracy will only grow. This bill would build on the strongest sanctions ever imposed on the Putin regime for its assault on democratic institutions, violation of international treaties, and siege on open societies through cyberattacks and misinformation campaigns.”

    According to Reuters, the US Banking and Foreign Relations Committees are planning hearings in advance of legislation being introduced. “Vladimir Putin continues to pose a growing threat to our country and allies,” a Democratic senator claimed in a statement.

    NATO however depends on Russian energy to run its military bases in Europe. Data from the Defense Logistics Agency show that about 40 percent of the oil used in military installations in Germany comes from Russia.

    Constance Douris, vice president of the Lexington Institute explained that US bases needed energy supplies to ensure uncompromised power generation. Therefore, backup solutions for US military bases are imperative in the face of Russia’s growing energy supply to Europe, she argued.

    Russian gas giant Gazprom, has increased its exports to Europe with gas sales exceeding 100 bcm for the first time – at 101.2 bcm, this year.

    In mid-July, US Senator John Barrasso introduced legislation “to give NATO members an escape from coercion and political manipulation of Russia”. Last week, another group of bipartisan senators urged the US Department of Defense to buy less energy from Russia.

    The Energy Security Cooperation Act with Associated Partners in Europe, or the ESCAPE Act, authorizes mandatory US sanctions on the development of Russian pipeline projects, such as Nord Stream 2.

    “US military bases in Europe currently use significant amounts of Russian energy, making them vulnerable to intentional supply disruptions by the Russian government. Trust also reduces US efforts to reassure allies and deter Russian aggression in Europe,” the senators complained.

    But the Treasury Department has warned Congress against this kind of extreme legislation that would end up blocking transactions and financing for Russian sovereign debt.

    Another warning against the new sanctions was issued by American academic Noam Chomsky. He called the claims of Russian interference in US elections “almost a joke” when contrasted with Israeli interference in America’s elections.

    Chomsky told Democracy Now on Friday: “So, take, say, the huge issue of interference in our pristine elections. Did the Russians interfere in our elections? An issue of overwhelming concern in the media. I mean, in most of the world, that’s almost a joke.”

    Chomsky added: “First of all, if you’re interested in foreign interference in our elections, whatever the Russians may have done barely counts or weighs in the balance as compared with what another state does, openly, brazenly and with enormous support. Israeli intervention in US elections vastly overwhelms anything the Russians may have done, I mean, even to the point where the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, goes directly to Congress, without even informing the president, and speaks to Congress, with overwhelming applause, to try to undermine the president’s policies — what happened with Obama and Netanyahu in 2015.

    “Did Putin come to give an address to the joint sessions of Congress trying to—calling on them to reverse US policy, without even informing the president?”

    “And that’s just a tiny bit of this overwhelming influence,” Chomsky noted. “So if you happen to be interested in influence… foreign influence on elections, there are places to look.”

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