In response to reports of bounties for the killing of American or allied troops in Afghanistan, Sen. Bob Menendez joined five of his colleagues to introduce the Russia Bounty Response Act of 2020. The legislation calls for sanctions to be imposed on any Russian person, government official or entity involved in these actions.
The legislation would require the Trump administration to respond to the Russian Federation’s reported program that calls for bounties to be paid to Taliban-linked militants for these actions.
“As we continue to learn the lengths that President Trump is willing to go to downplay [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s aggressions against our nation, we are once again forced to mandate what should be common sense: The U.S. government will always stand up for our service members and against any foreign actor who seeks to harm them,” said Menendez in a press statement.
Military Deserves Protection
Joining Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as introducers of the bill were Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, Dick Durbin, Richard Blumenthal, Jeff Merkley and Tammy Duckworth.
The sponsors said the legislation was introduced due to a perceived lack of action by the Trump administration to protect the country’s armed forces.
“The President’s inaction and deafening silence has only demonstrated that he is more concerned with the approval of the Kremlin than bounties on the lives of our soldiers,” said Durbin. “We will not stand idly by when a foreign leader puts a bounty on the heads of American soldiers.”
It’s time, Blumenthal said, for the United States to push back on Putin’s anti-American ambitions.
“This administration has turned a blind eye to Russian aggression since day one,” said Blumenthal. “Intelligence powerfully shows that the Kremlin offered the Taliban bounties for killing Americans in Afghanistan, but the Trump administration prefers catering to Putin rather than protecting our servicemen and women.”
Beyond the sanctions, the legislation authorizes $50 million per year in rewards for individuals who provide information on Russian bounties against U.S. Armed Forces or allied troops in Afghanistan.
Bill Forces Action
“We are introducing this legislation because this President’s deference to Putin demands that Congress proactively shape U.S. foreign policy toward Russia, especially with respect to sanctions,” said Menendez. “Incredible that we have reached this point—but we actually need laws that force the President of the United States to protect American lives and our interests.”
If it is certified that the Russian government offered, ordered, directed, or was otherwise responsible for bounties for the killing of members of the U.S. Armed Forces or members of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, the President would be required to impose asset blocking or visa ban sanctions.
“The fact that the Trump administration apparently knew Russia was paying to kill Americans yet did nothing about it is a horrific betrayal,” said Merkley. “Donald Trump and his enablers are not willing to stand up to Putin, so it’s clearly up to Congress to deliver swift and decisive action to hold Russia accountable.”
Calls for Regional Strategy
This legislation also creates resources to counter Russian threats in South and Central Asia.
“This bill will force Trump to act by putting important policies in place to ensure our nation addresses the threat of Russia’s alliance with the Taliban and influence in the South and Central Asian region over the long term and by enacting sanctions, if warranted,” said Duckworth.
Additionally, the proposed law calls for the creation of a regional strategy for how the U.S. will diplomatically counter Russian influence in the region of South and Central Asia. It authorizes $30 million per year for Global Engagement Center programming to counter Russian influence in the countries of South and Central Asia, running for fiscal years 2021 through 2026.
“This action is necessary to protect Americans against Putin’s bounty-driven killing and Trump’s reprehensible inaction,” said Blumenthal. “Strong sanctions and other steps will give Putin the only incentive he understands – hitting him and his surrogates where it hurts,”