US Democrats unveil new Russia sanctions bill amid soaring tensions: Report

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Democrats in the US Senate are expected to present a new sanctions bill on Wednesday targeting Russia amid escalating tensions between the two countries over Ukraine. (Photo by WSJ)

The Democrats in the US Senate are expected to present a new sanctions bill on Wednesday targeting Russia, according to reports, which would inflict “severe costs” on the country’s economy.

The move comes amid growing tensions between Moscow and Washington over Ukraine.

Under the bill, sweeping sanctions would be imposed on top Russian military and civilian officials, including President Vladimir Putin as well as key banking institutions, if Moscow engages in hostilities against Ukraine, Washington Post reported.

It also includes provisions to help strengthen Ukraine’s security and encourages the Joe Biden administration to "consider all available and appropriate measures" to ensure the Nord Stream 2 pipeline does not get up and running, the report said.

The bill would also target companies in Russia that offer secure messaging systems, such as SWIFT, which banks use to exchange key information with other financial institutions, the report noted.

The bill to be tabled on Wednesday by the senate foreign relations committee chairman Robert Menendez has already been endorsed by two dozen Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. The bill has the full backing of the White House.

A spokesperson for the US National Security Council was quoted as saying by the newspaper that the bill would “trigger severe costs to Russia’s economy” if Russia goes ahead with an invasion, and that other measures, such as the one being pushed by Republican Senator Ted Cruz in a separate bill, will “not counter further Russian aggression or protect Ukraine.”

The US and its Western allies accuse Russia of planning “an invasion” of Ukraine amid military buildup near the Ukrainian border.

Moscow rejects the allegations and insists that the deployments are defensive in nature.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov has termed the US accusations against Russia as “empty and unfounded”, which according to him serve as a ploy to escalate tensions.

“We underscore that for us it’s absolutely mandatory to make sure that Ukraine never, never, ever becomes a member of NATO,” Peskov said on Monday.

On Sunday, Russia’s lead negotiator and deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov held talks with his US counterpart Wendy Sherman in Geneva, which he termed “difficult, but businesslike.”

Ryabkov said that Kremlin was "disappointed" with signals coming from the US and NATO’s European members as Moscow seeks a new security arrangement with the West.

Moscow has repeatedly reiterated that expansion of the NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine constitutes a red line for it and that any future expansion must exclude Ukraine and other former Soviet countries.

NATO on Monday warned Moscow to brace for conflict with the US-led military alliance if it does not abandon its “belligerent foreign policy” and cooperate with the West amid soaring tensions.

“NATO’s deterrence is credible and strong, we have to hope and work hard for the best, but be prepared for the worst,” NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, adding that a “risk of conflict” loomed large.

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