Putin Spokesman Says U.S. Sanctions Are 'Racketeering,' Slams 'Aggressive Trading Approach'

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman slammed a U.S. congressional bill to impose sanctions on Russia, arguing that American efforts against his country border on "racketeering."

"There is an absolutely concrete, pragmatic and aggressive trading approach, having nothing to do with international trade rules," Dmitry Peskov said, Russia's Tass news agency reported on Thursday. "This policy sometimes borders on racketeering," the Kremlin spokesman argued. "I mean various provisions of the draft law aimed at disrupting various energy projects of Russian companies, undermining the activities of Russian banks with state participation."

Peskov said that Putin's government has already taken steps to protect the Russian economy against such "racketeering attacks."

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a joint press conference with Turkish and Iranian presidents following a trilateral meeting on Syria in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, on February 14. Putin’s spokesman slammed a U.S. congressional bill to impose sanctions on Russia. SERGEI CHIRIKOV/AFP/Getty Images

Republican and Democratic senators on Wednesday introduced new legislation that would target Russia's cybersecurity sector, the country's new sovereign debt and individuals deemed to "facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of Putin," Reuters reported. The bill also aims to enforce strict measures targeting the Russian oil and gas industry, which accounts for about 40 percent of the government's revenues. Energy projects by Moscow outside of Russian territory would also be slapped with new sanctions.

GOP Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina referred to the measures as the "sanctions bill from hell."

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez from New Jersey, who co-sponsored the legislation with Graham, took aim at President Donald Trump and his administration, slamming the White House for failing to take harsh action against Moscow and its alleged election meddling.

"President Trump's willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression has reached a boiling point in Congress," Menendez said.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, expressed similar sentiments to those of Menendez. "Too often, the Trump administration resorts to foot dragging when it comes to holding foreign powers accountable, particularly Russia," she said, according to CNN.

CNN also reported that Trump's State Department has continued to avoid consulting with Congress on the issue of Russian sanctions and neglected to implement required punitive financial measures in the wake of the Kremlin's alleged poisoning of an ex-spy in the United Kingdom last year.

President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin speak during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in Danang, Vietnam, on November 11, 2017. Trump’s administration has sometimes appeared reluctant to enforce bipartisan sanctions targeting the country and its government. JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images

"The Kremlin used a nerve agent on NATO soil–it's hard to overstate how brazen this behavior is," Shaheen pointed out. "There's overwhelming bipartisan agreement that the Kremlin should pay a heavy price and the law is crystal clear in this respect."

Meanwhile, Trump's 2016 presidential campaign remains under investigation by Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller for collusion with Moscow. Although Trump has dismissed the probe as a "witch hunt," arguing he has been exceptionally tough on Russia as president, his administration has sometimes appeared reluctant to enforce bipartisan sanctions targeting the country and its government.

The Trump administration also reportedly misled Congress in a bid to ease sanctions targeting Putin ally Oleg Deripaska. Although Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin assured Congress that the sanctions relief came in exchange for hefty concessions from Deripaska and his reducing his personal stakes in his companies, a confidential document later revealed by The New York Times showed that the Russian billionaire would actually be relieved of billions of dollars in debt, and that he and his allies would maintain ownership of his most important company.