A bipartisan group of American Senators are calling for more sanctions against Russia during a tour of Eastern Europe after intelligence agencies accused President Vladimir Putin of meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections.
Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham will be joined by Democrat Amy Klobuchar in a visit to Baltic Nato allies including Latvia and Estonia, as well as other Russian neighbours Ukraine, Georgia and Montenegro this week. The trip is meant to reassure the region that it retains US military support, but it has also led to more tough talk against Russia.
"We have to sanction Russia for these cyberattacks [and] send a clear message to the incoming administration that there is a lot of bipartisan support in Congress for going after this," Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar told The Associated Press by phone from Latvia.
The sanctions would be in addition to others President Barack Obama placed on Russian oligarchs, politicians, and corporations following its annexation of the Crimean region of Ukraine in 2014.
"I predict there will be bipartisan sanctions coming that will hit Russia hard, particularly Putin as an individual," Senator Graham disclosed in Riga, the Latvian capital Wednesday (28 December).
Yet President-elect Donald Trump has been dismissive of their concerns. When asked about the accusations of Russian hacking during a press appearance at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on Wednesday, Trump said "nobody knows what's going on", and "we have to get on with our lives."
Trump has said US intelligence agency warnings about Russian hacking amounts to nothing more than partisan politics. His transition team has also said it was "premature" to say whether Russia is a defence priority.
However, evidence, and an October statement by the US Director of National Intelligence point to Russian involvement in the hacking and theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Clinton campaign's emails. These emails were published by WikiLeaks throughout the 2016 campaign, and more evidence has emerged tying the hackers to Russia's intelligence agencies last week.
Retaliatory measures against Russia for the hacks are expected to be announced Thursday (29 December). In early December, President Barack Obama called for a bipartisan review of the evidence the FBI and CIA gleaned from investigations into the hacks. The review is set to be made public before Trump's inauguration on 20 January. Both Graham and McCain are involved in the review.
Trump said during his press interview that he had not spoken with any of the Senators visiting Eastern Europe.
The trio have not specified what sanctions they would like to see imposed on Russia, but have insisted the US commitment to defending its Baltic Nato allies "will not change" under the Trump administration.