The U.S. Senate nearly unanimously approved tough sanctions on Russia and sent the legislation to the White House, presenting President Donald Trump with a dilemma as he seeks to improve relations with Moscow, but also ignoring EU protests.
The European Commission and EU member states fear that the new sanctions may hit European companies that are upgrading pipeline distribution systems in Russia, as well as railway, shipping, mining, and financial companies. Brussels is ready to retaliate in kind “within days” if European companies are targeted.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly denied the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Moscow interfered using cyber warfare methods, has threatened retaliation against the legislation.
The Senate backed the bill, which also imposes sanctions on Iran and North Korea, by a margin of 98-2 with strong support from Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats.
The bill, which includes a provision that allows Congress to stop any effort by Trump to ease existing sanctions on Russia, will now be sent to the White House for Trump to sign into law or veto.
It is the first major foreign policy legislation approved by Congress under Trump, who has struggled to advance his domestic agenda despite Republicans controlling the Senate and House of Representatives. The strong bipartisan support for the bill was a sharp contrast to the bitter partisan rancor during debate over how to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system.
If Trump chooses to veto it, the bill is expected to garner enough support in both chambers to override his veto and pass it into law. The sanctions measure has already passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 419-3.
Republicans and Democrats have pushed for more sanctions partly as a response to the election allegations. Trump denies any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.
Republican Senator John McCain, a leading congressional voice calling for a firm line against Russia, said before the vote: “The United States of America needs to send a strong message to Vladimir Putin and any other aggressor that we will not tolerate attacks on our democracy.”
Putin said Moscow would only decide on how to retaliate once it had seen the final text of the proposed law.
The bill would affect a range of Russian industries and might further hurt the Russian economy, already weakened by 2014 sanctions imposed after Russia annexed Crime from Ukraine.
Besides angering Moscow, the legislation has upset the European Union, which has said the new sanctions might affect its energy security and prompt it to act, too.