US senators vow strong stance on Russia amid hacking claims

Barack Obama prepares sanctions as Donald Trump eyes rapprochement with Kremlin

US senator John McCain listens as senator Lindsey Graham speaks during a news conference in Riga, Latvia.  They have called for tough measures against Russia. Photograph:  Ints Kalnins/Reuters

US senator John McCain listens as senator Lindsey Graham speaks during a news conference in Riga, Latvia. They have called for tough measures against Russia. Photograph: Ints Kalnins/Reuters

 

Senior US senators touring European states that feel threatened by Moscow have called for tough measures against Russia and its president Vladimir Putin, despite US president-elect Donald Trump’s conciliatory stance towards the Kremlin.

The White House is expected to impose more sanctions on Russia for its alleged meddling in last month’s presidential election, but Mr Trump brushed off a question on the issue this week by saying: “We ought to get on with our lives”.

On a visit to the Baltic states, Republican senator John McCain said in response: “I agree with the president-elect that we need to get on with our lives – without having elections being affected by any outside influence, especially Vladimir Putin, who is a thug and a murderer.”

US intelligence agencies believe Russia tried to influence the US election by hacking Democratic Party members and organisations, and US officials say Moscow’s aim was to damage the chances of Mr Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Mr Trump has reacted sceptically to the findings, and praised Mr Putin and expressed hopes for a US-Russia rapprochement once he takes office next month.

Cyber security firms believe the Democrats were hacked by a Russian group called Fancy Bear, which is suspected to be linked to Russian military intelligence.

Hacked

Computer experts also see Fancy Bear behind hacks into anti-doping agencies after Russian athletes were banned from this summer’s Olympics, and technology used by Ukrainian forces fighting pro-Moscow separatists.

On Wednesday, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe – which has hundreds of staff monitoring the conflict in eastern Ukraine – said its computer systems had also been hacked.

French newspaper Le Monde reported that an unnamed source in western intelligence blamed the attack on a Russian hacking group known as APT28 – another name for Fancy Bear.

“We have to sanction Russia for these cyber attacks [and] send a clear message to the incoming [US] administration that there is a lot of bipartisan support in Congress for going after this,” said Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat senator who is travelling with Mr McCain and his Republican colleague Lindsey Graham.

Bipartisan effort

“Here’s what you can expect in 2017 in the United States – a bipartisan effort in Congress to push back against the Russian interference in our election,” Mr Graham said in Latvia.

“I predict there will be bipartisan sanctions coming that will hit Russia hard, particularly Putin as an individual . . . Russia is trying to break the back of democracies all around the world,” Mr Graham said.

“It is now time for Russia to understand – enough is enough,” he added.

The three senators will travel later this week to Ukraine, Montenegro and Georgia, where Russia is putting heavy pressure on pro-western governments that want their countries to join Nato.

Next month, multinational Nato battalions will deploy to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to reassure states that have been alarmed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.

Russia denies the hacking allegations and vows to respond to any new US sanctions.