Kremlin holds off on responding to new US sanctions

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MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin on Wednesday refrained from discussing its possible response to a new package of U.S. sanctions against Russia before President Donald Trump signs them into law.

Eager to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Congress on Tuesday overwhelmingly backed a new package of sanctions against Moscow that prohibits Trump from waiving the penalties without first getting permission from Congress.

Senior Russian officials and lawmakers said Russia was considering measures in response to the new round of sanctions, but Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said it was too early to speak about it.

Peskov told reporters in Moscow that the new sanctions, which he described as "lamentable," have not been signed by Trump into law yet and that the Kremlin "needs to analyze it very carefully" before Putin makes a decision on how to respond.

When outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama imposed new sanctions on Russia last December, including expelling dozens of Russian diplomats and seizing two Russian recreational estates, Putin chose not to respond and said Russia would not expel U.S. diplomats despite the overwhelming expectations.

Russian officials welcomed Donald Trump's presidential win last year, hoping to mend relations with the United States which reached a post-Cold War low under President Barack Obama. But six months into Trump's presidency ties between the two countries remain tense, and the much-anticipated first meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin early this month did not seem to produce any tangible results.

Earlier on Wednesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov criticized the sanctions as "closing off the prospect for normalizing ties." He told the Interfax news agency the new sanctions are pushing Russia and the U.S. "into uncharted territory both in political and diplomatic sense."

Several Russian lawmakers said Moscow is considering how to respond to the new sanctions that aim to hit Putin and his inner circle by targeting alleged corrupt officials, human rights abusers, and crucial sectors of the Russian economy, including weapons sales and energy exports. The Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russian parliament, is already discussing the response, the chairman of its foreign affairs committee Konstantin Kosachev told reporters in Moscow.

Frants Klintsevich, first deputy chairman of the defense committee at the upper chamber of Russian parliament, warned that the new sanctions could hurt Russia's efforts to work with the U.S. in fighting terrorism. Cooperation on counter-terrorism between Russia and the U.S. "will be extremely problematic if at all possible," Klintsevich said in comments carried by Russian news agencies on Wednesday.

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