The meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on July 17thin Helsinki triggered a wave of public indignation and resentment across the United States. Above all, the outrage was elicited by President Trump’s siding with Vladimir Putin on the crucial issue of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, thus directly undermining the U.S. intelligence’s consensus on the matter. Congress reacted promptly: within days following the Helsinki meeting, both the House and the Senate introduced several bills which, if passed, would add gravitas to the worsening relations between the U.S. and the Putin regime. We have read and summarized the key provisions of these bills below.

 

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) at a Congress hearing on July 25, 2018. Rubio is a co-sponsor of the DETER Act targeting Russia introduced in Congress. Photo: Douglas Christian via ZUMA Wire | TASS.

  

Bills to counter the Kremlin’s actions

NB: These bills are still at early stages of review and thus are not guaranteed to pass in their current forms. It is our sense, however, that this is the harshest package of anti-Russian measures since the Cold War.

 

I. The Act to Protect America from Russian Interference (Secure America from Russian Interference ActH.R. 6437)

  • The bill was submitted to the lower house of Congress by the Democratic whip, Steny Hoyer, on July 19, 2018.
  • It includes 18 pieces of legislation; 8 of which have bipartisan support. Almost all of these initiatives have previously been introduced to Congress, but are now collected under the aegis of a single and comprehensive bill.
  • The bill is backed up by 23 Democrats and 6 Republicans
  • The objectives of the bill are to:
    • Expose Russian misdeeds and holding President Vladimir Putin accountable;
    • Strengthen U.S. government security and election infrastructure to defend against foreign interference;
    • Bolster U.S. alliances to combat the Russian threat, especially those of our NATO partners; Seek constructive dialogue with the Russian people.

 

18 bills included in the Secure America from Russian Interference Act are:

  1. Prohibit recognition of the Russian annexation of Crimea (R. 463: Crimea Annexation Non-Recognition Act)
    1. Proclaims the“non-recognition of Crimea as a Russian territory” asthe U.Spolicy; prohibits any federal ministry or agentto take any action or offer any aid which might beseen asrecognition of Crimea as a Russian territory, either de jure or de facto.
    2. Implies that the President may object and change this policy position in the name of US national interests.
  1. Impose sanctions on any country for election interference. (R. 530: Safeguard Our Elections and Combat Unlawful Interference in Our Democracy (SECURE Our Democracy) Act).
    • This bill targets “foreign persons” who, starting on January 1st, 2015, have been “involved in actions to unlawfully access, disrupt, misappropriate, influence, or in any way alter information or information systems related to United States political parties, candidates in elections for Federal office, or the administration of elections for Federal office.” It is also aimed against those who “worked or acted as an agent or instrumentality of or on behalf of or was otherwise associated with such a foreign person.”
    • A list of these persons will be put together by the State Department, which, within 120 days of the enactment of the bill, must be sent to Congress. The declassified section(s) of the list will subsequently be released for public access.
    • Some of the proposed measures against these “foreign persons”:
      • Refusal of U.S. visas and revoking of any currently-held visas.
      • Freezing of U.S. assets and prohibiting of “all transactions in all property and interests in property of a foreign person” (to be carried out by the President through the U.S. Treasury based on the Law on International Emergency Economic Powers from 1977)
  2. Prohibit the Department of Treasury from providing licenses for U.S. individuals to engage in joint energy activities that may produce oil in Russia. (R. 2145: No Russia Exemptions for Oil Production Act (No REX) Act)
  3. Monitor subversive actions of the Russian Federation (R. 2586: Report on Influence and Subversion by the Kremlin (RISK) Act)
    • Assesses “active measures” which Russia is undertaking on U.S. or foreign territories, including propaganda and disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks, and efforts to influence infrastructure and democratic processes; promoting separatism and undermining sovereignty (especially in Ukraine and the Baltics), and carrying out repressions within Russia.
    • To be funded via the Fund to Counteract Russian Influence ($1 million); funds to be allocated by the U.S. Treasury at the direction of the President.
  4. Improve the cyber capabilities of U.S. allies (R. 2812: Enhance Partner Cyber Capabilities Act)
    • Meant to enhance the offensive and defensive cyber capabilities and strategies of NATO member states to deter and defend against Russian operations
    • The development and updating of these strategies is entrusted to the U.S. Department of Defense.
  5. Fight against Russian corruption (H.R. 2820: Fight Russia Corruption Act)
    • Proposes to establish an Anti-Corruption Department within the State Department, which is to assist European countries on this matter.
    • The department will analyze Russian financial transactions in Europe which are related to real estate, energy, media, infrastructure, etc. It will also train S. diplomatic officers to cooperate with foreign partners in uncovering and prosecuting illicit Russian financial activity.
  6. Establish the National Russian Threat Response Center (H.R. 2924: National Russian Threat Response Center)
    • The Center will be created within the office of the Director of National Intelligence.
    • The Center’s primary mission will be to collect, analyze, and integrate all intelligence collected by the U.S. government agencies on the threats Russia poses to national security, political sovereignty, and economic activity of the United States and its allies.
  7. Require disclosure for online political advertisements (H.R. 4077: Honest Ads Act)
    • Its goal is ensure thedisclosure of information about the purchasers of online ads for political campaigns, as well as their goals and purposes.
    • Introduces amendments to the Law on Federal Election Campaigns from 1971, including expanding the definitions of “public communication” and “campaign communication” to reflect the latest technological developments and to apply relevant legal terms and conditions to online communication.
    • Platforms which publish political ads are obligated for a calendar year to preserve all information relating to the purchases and purchasers of ads worth in over $500. This information must be made available upon the platform’s request.
    • These requests are addressed to the online platforms, namely those with a minimum of 50 million viewers during the previous year.
  8. Require reporting on the Kremlin’s political intentions (H.R. 4348: Keeping Russian Entrapments Minimal and Limiting Intelligence Network (KREMLIN) Act)
    • Entrusted to the Director of National Intelligence;
    • DNI is to provide regular reports assessing Russian political and military intentions: the possibility of its implementing military and other subversive scenarios against NATO; the reaction of the Russian leadership to the European Deterrence Initiative; as well as possible areas for a joint dialogue with Russia.
  9. Election security (H.R. 5011: Election Security Act)
    • Proposes to improve capabilities of the U.S.election infrastructure to defend against cyberattacks ("improvements" are in terms of quality, accessibility, reliability, etc. of such infrastructure);
    • Proposes to allocate $1 billion in the 2018 financial year, and a subsequent $175 million in the 2019, 2021, 2023, and 2025 financial years in order to improve security measures relating to election cyberattacks. This clause provides for additional or adjusted sums as measures and strategies themselves evolve.
    • Also considers the development of a national strategy for the identification and classification of potential cyber- and other threats (disinformation campaigns, campaigns to influence opinion) targeting the democratic institutions of the US. The corresponding text must be prepared over the course of the year after the law is passed.
  10. Impose sanctions on senior political figures and oligarchs in the Russian Federation (H.R. 5216: Directing Implementation of Sanctions and Accountability for Russian Mischief (DISARM) Act)
    • This bill criticizes the implementation of CAATSA and calls upon the current administration to act more decisively and publicly.
    • Within 30 days of the enactment of this bill, the President is to introduce a new round of sanctions (visa bans and the freezing of assets) on at least 5 Russian individualswho are either high-level political figures or oligarchs) and at least 5 entities, all of which have been listed on the OFAC’s “blacklist” since January 29th, 2018 (the unclassified section of the report is available here); the organizations listed in the unclassified report have not yet been affected by sanctions.
    • The criteria of CAATSA still hold.
  11. Require enhanced reporting for U.S.-based foreign media (H.R. 5354: Countering Foreign Propaganda Act)
    • Proposes amendments to the Communications Act of 1934 that would force foreign media outlets based in the U.S. and whose programs show clear bias towards foreign entities (“foreign principals”), to provide detailed reports to the Federal Commission (FCC) every six months.
    • These reports will be published on the FCC’s site.
    • The proposal differs from the provisions of the Foreign Agent Registration Act of 1938 (FARA). Media outlets are not required to register as foreign agents; emphasis is instead made on the obligatory disclosure of information relating to their programs financed by “foreign principals” (as defined by FARA). Nondisclosure of such information will make broadcasting of these programs unlawful.
  12. Sanction Russia for the poisoning of a Russian dissident in the UK (H.R. 5428: Stand with UK Against Russia Violation Act)
    • The act will impose sanctions on those responsible for the March 12, 2018, attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal;
    • It will also extend CAATSA sanctions to those who knowingly engaged in, provided material support to, or perpetrated the attack on the Skripals. Also included: any employee/agent of the Russian government who knowingly assisted the Russian Government (or acted in its interest) in the murder, attempted murder, or assault against any expatriate, dissident, or foreign national outside of Russia.
  13. Defend against Russian aggression and disinformation (H.R. 5910: Defend Against Russian Disinformation and Aggression Act)
    • The act works to strengthen the U.S.’ responses to Russian meddling. The namely, to Russian aggression in Ukraine, exposing the corruption of Vladimir Putin, strengthening military ties within NATO, and ensuring a coordinated and effective federal response to Russian aggression.
    • The Office of the Coordinator for Sanctions Policy will be re-established within the Department of State; Coordinator will be appointed by the President with the consent of Senate and shall report directly to the Secretary of State.
    • Context: Originally, the Office of the Coordinator for Sanctions Policies was established in January 2013 under the Obama administration, with Ambassador Daniel Fried leading the efforts. After Donald Trump’s election, Fried resigned, and the Office was eventually abolished under by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in October 2017.
  14. Protect European energy security (H.R. 6224: Protect European Energy Security Act)
    • The act would require reports by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Director of National Intelligence relating to the construction of the Nord Stream II pipeline;
    • The United States should continue to oppose construction of the Nord Stream II pipeline (and other gas pipelines in northern Europe proposed by the Russian Federation); and take affirmative diplomatic steps to halt the construction of such pipelines.
  15. Punish Russia for the continued occupation of Ukraine (H.R. 6423: Punishing Continued Occupation of Ukraine Act)
    • The premise of the bill is that previous sanctions did not succeed in changing Putin’s calculus with regards to Ukraine and Crimea. Harsher sanctions against Russian financial institutions with ties to the Kremlin are therefore proposed.
    • The bill provides that the President impose sanctions against at least 3 financial institutions, one of which must be Vneshekonombank.
    • Also named: Sberbank, VTB, Gazprombank, Bank of Moscow, Rosselkhozbank, Promsvyazbank.
    • Such sanctions would encompass:blocking and prohibit all transactions in all property and interests in property of such financial institutions,“if the former are in the U.S., come within the U.S., or are or come within the possession or control of a U.S. person.”
  16. Combat Putin’s repression of Russian civil society (H.R. 6426: Combating Putin’s Repression (CPR) for Russian Civil Society Act)
    • Among proposed measures: improving the visa procedures for Russian persons involved in professional and cultural exchanges; more thorough visa checks for high-ranking political figures associated with Putin and who support his policies; more thorough monitoring of cultural and educational exchange programs involving Russian citizens.
    • The act also deals with measures to combat Putin's censorship (including, for example, support to Telegram); the allocation of $10 million to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) for the expansion of Russian-language broadcasting (e.g. Voice of America, Radio Liberty) and support for other means of communication with the Russian people.
  17. Amendments to the Intelligence Authorization Act (Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018)
    • Congress shall be notified of foreign interference in elections.

If the bill is adopted, the following steps (among others) are envisaged:

  • If DNI, Director of FBI, and the Secretary of Homeland Security determine that a serious external cyberattack aimed at undermining the electoral process has taken place, then they must, no later than two weeks after the fact was established, brief the Congress on the matter.
  • Within 60 days after the enactment of the bill, the U.S. Treasury Secretary, in coordination with the Secretary of State, will prepare a report for Congress on assets owned by Vladimir Putin, Russian oligarchs, and high-ranking officials associated with him. The report will initially be presented in Congress in a closed session, its unclassified version will be further released to the public.
  • Within 60 days, the U.S. president must determine whether Russia is in compliance with the Minsk Accords. Evaluation of the agreement implementation will be held every six months for five years.
  • The Secretary of State must prepare the following lists within 90 days:
    • Persons (and their intermediaries) operating in Europe and the U.S. in the interest of the Russian government;
    • Politicians serving or acting as proxies of the Russian government;
    • Russian media entities, including producers and reporters, who purposely spread fabrications or instigate conflict and violence in Europe or the United States;
    • Non-Russians who assist the Russian government—either knowingly or due to negligence;
    • Persons receiving subsidies from the Russian government, thereby undermining market opportunities for private businesses;
    • As well as persons providing financial or material support to:
      • forces supported by Russia and actively involved in aggression against Russian neighbors;
      • the Russian government’s propaganda which legitimises Russian aggression;
      • political or non-governmental figures and organisations (including United Russia), which, according to the assessment of the Secretary of State, are engaged in suppressing fundamental freedoms in Russia.
  • Within 180 days, the Secretary of State must provide Congress with a report on the subversive actions of the Russian government. The report should be prepared by an independent organization selected by the Secretary of State and contain the following information:
    • The overall structure of the Russian misinformation campaign (including intelligence services and the media);
    • Russia's aggressive actions aimed at undermining the sovereignty of foreign states, especially Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, the Baltic countries, and the Balkans.
    • Cyberattacks aimed at undermining the democratic process of the United States and other countries;
    • The use of energy exports and energy projects to wield political influence;
    • The deterioration of democratic conditions within Russia.

 

II. The Act to Defend Elections from Threats by Establishing "Redlines" (Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines Act of 2018, the DETER Act)

  • The bill was initially submitted to the Senate for consideration on January 16, 2018 by Democratic Senator Chris Van Hellen. The sponsor from the Republican Party was Senator Marco Rubio.
  • It was supported by 8 more senators from both parties on July 19, 2018.
  • The purpose of the bill is to protect US elections from foreign interference by countries such as China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, etc. 

Basic provisions:

  • Imposes sanctions on foreign governments or agents acting on their behalf who:
    • Buy advertisements (including online) to influence the election;
    • Use traditional media and social networks to spread false information amongst U.S. citizens;
    • Hack the electoral infrastructure;
    • Block access to the electoral infrastructure.
    • Within one month after every federal election, the Director of National Intelligence (not the president) must report to Congress on whether any foreign government has interfered in that election.
  • In the case if Russia is implicated:
    • Within 10 days of receiving evidence about meddling from DNI, the President is obligated to:
      • Freeze/block assets of at least 3 financial institutions associated with the Russian government (suggested list includes: Sberbank, VTB, Gazprombank, Vnesheconombank, Bank of Moscow, and Rosselkhozbank).
      • Freeze/block assets of at least 2 Russian energy companies (listed: Rosneft, Gazprom, Lukoil).
      • Freeze/block the assets of Russian defense or intelligence agencies (namely those conducting significant transactions on behalf of the Russian government or in which the Russian government has at least a 50 percent stake).
      • Freeze/block the assets of other Russian government rail, mining, or metal companies, as well as aerospace companies, air carriers and their subsidiaries.
      • Freeze/block the assets of all U.S. companies in which the Russian government has a stake of at least 50 percent or holds at least a 20 percent interest at the time of the enactment of this law.
      • Implement a ban on the operations with Russian sovereign debt (specifically, on purchasing Russian foreign bonds).
    • The President is also obligated to block or freeze the assets of all high-ranking Russian political figures and oligarchs, in accordance with the criteria outlined in the 2017 bill “To Counter the Influence of the Russian Federation in Europe and Eurasia” (currently introduced in the Senate), and to ban their entry to the U.S. or revoke existing visas.
    • The U.S. will coordinate these efforts with the European Union to broaden the sanctions effect.

 

III. Energy Security Cooperation with Allied Partners in Europe Act (Еnergy Security Cooperation with Allied Partners in Europe Act of 2018)

  • Presented to the Senate by Republicans John Barrasso, Cory Gardner, and Steve Daines on July 18th, 2018.
  • Key objectives:
    • Reduce the dependence of U.S. partners and allies on Russian energy;
    • Condemn Russia for using energy resources as a geopolitical weapon;
    • Improve the energy security of European countries by expanding their access to diversified and reliable energy sources (including through U.S. gas exports);
    • Actively oppose the construction of the Nord Stream-2 pipeline
  • To achieve these goals, the U.S. must work closely with NATO allies to develop a Transatlantic Energy Strategy.
  • If the bill becomes law:
    • Within 60 days, the Secretary of State, in coordination with the USAID and the Department of Energy, is to provide Congress with a draft of the Transatlantic Energy Strategy.
    • The Natural Gas Act of 1938 should be amended to expedite the U.S. natural gas exports to a number of countries (i.e. NATO, Japan).
    • As of now, exporting natural gas from the U.S. requires special licensing based on the “public interest” criteria from the Department of Energy (the procedure takes up to 90 days).
  • Sanctions on Russia's gas pipeline projects:
    • Sanctions on projects worth $1 million or more, or whose total cost for a 12-month period exceeds $5 million; and whose beneficiary is the Russian Federation or any entity controlled by it.
      • Context: estimated costs of the construction of one mile of a pipeline with diameter are $230,000.
    • Any person who contributes to these projects (whether via a purchase, sale, licensing, provision of services, information, technologies, etc.), will be subject to sanctions outlined by CAATSA.

 

Conclusion: Anti-Russian sentiment is part of the U.S. political discourse today, which is reflected in the multiple initiatives introduced in the Congress. The majority of the political establishment, including members of both Republican and Democratic parties, seems to oppose the Kremlin’s policies. Given these sensitivities, it is only natural to expect that Russia is to become one of the hottest issues in the upcoming midterm elections that potentially could change the power dynamics in Congress. This means that the idea of toughening the U.S. policy towards Russia will be advanced by both parties.

 

Maggie Tinner, Alisa Drevesnikova, and Sasha Diouk contributed in this report.

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