WASHINGTON • The US Senate has voted overwhelmingly to punish Russia over its alleged election meddling, passing a Bill that would bar President Donald Trump from unilaterally easing existing sanctions on Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed the sanctions approved by the Senate in a 97-2 vote on Wednesday.
The proposal was included in an amendment that must still be approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The Bill would make congressional approval necessary if Mr Trump seeks to suspend or ease sanctions imposed on Russia over its apparent cyber attacks during last year's US election campaign.
The new Bill would also give sanctions imposed by Mr Trump's Democratic predecessor Barack Obama via an executive order the full force of law.
The legislation would impose new sanctions against "corrupt Russian actors", "those involved in serious human rights abuses", Russians providing arms to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, or those engaged in cyber attacks on behalf of the government.
Russia's interventions in Ukraine and Crimea and its support of Mr Assad in the Syrian war are the other stated reasons for the sanctions, aside from the hacking that US intelligence agencies say Russia engaged in aggressively with the alleged aim of helping Mr Trump beat his rival Hillary Clinton.
Yesterday, Mr Putin denounced the sanctions as coming "out of nowhere" and motivated by domestic politics and historical efforts by the West to contain Russia.
"Why? Nothing extraordinary is happening," he said at his annual phone-in with Russian citizens. "Of course, this is evidence of the continuing domestic political battle in the US, but it is completely out of nowhere. If it wasn't for Crimea, if it wasn't for other problems, they would think of other reasons to contain Russia," he said.
The sanctions have been added to a Bill - under debate and almost certain to win passage - aimed at toughening sanctions against Iran for what the Bill calls its support of international terrorist acts.
"For too long, the message to Vladimir Putin has been that Russia can invade its neighbours, threaten US allies, intensify its cyber attacks and interfere with foreign elections with very little repercussion," said Senator John McCain. "Unless and until Russia pays a price for its actions, these destabilising activities will continue."