Two Republican senators, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and John Barrasso of Wyoming, called off a planned trip to Russia last week after the Kremlin denied a visa to New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Shaheen about what she's calling Russia's travel sanction.
(Editor's note: this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity)
What was your reaction to finding out that your visa had been denied?
Well, sadly I wasn't too surprised. Senators Johnson, Barrasso and I are all on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This was supposed to be a bipartisan delegation to Russia. We've heard from Vladimir Putin that he wants to improve ties with the United States, but clearly their denial of my visa and the canceling of this congressional trip to Russia belies that assertion.
Now you say you're not surprised. You have been outspoken about your support for a Russia sanctions bill that Congress approved overwhelmingly last year. A spokesman for Russia's U.S. Embassy said you're now on a Russian “black list” created in response to the U.S. sanctions. Were you expecting that “black list” response though?
Well I wasn't, but I'm in good company with people like John McCain and Bob Menendez who also have been outspoken in their criticism of Russia. And you know this is the way the Putin regime deals with people who disagree with them. In the United States we have open discussion. We can disagree. We can continue to work together. But in Russia, if you disagree with Putin you're on his blacklist and what he has done with many of the dissidents in Russia is had them killed. And I think it's important to point out what the government of Russia continues to do. I think the Russian people sadly are, as we're going to see I think in the run up to the elections coming up in March, they don't agree with this approach. They want to be able to express themselves. And unfortunately what we've seen from Putin is exactly the opposite.
This was a bipartisan delegation. What was the original purpose of the trip that's now canceled?
We have a new ambassador there, and he suggested it would be helpful to have a high profile delegation go to Russia to try and address some of the concerns we have—the human rights concerns, the concerns about the way the Putin government has behaved in Ukraine, in Syria and the United States in interfering in our elections. In Europe, where they've interfered in Brexit and Britain to withdraw from the European Union, in Spain and their elections with Catalonia, in Germany, in France. So this is a pattern of Russian behavior and it's important for them to hear from people that this is a pattern that's not acceptable to civilized countries you don't just invade your neighbors.
Have you received any support from the White House about this?
I haven't heard from the White House.
But what is your plan moving forward in response to ongoing issues between Russia and the U.S.?
Well, to continue to look at ways that we can hold them accountable for their behavior. When they respond in a way that is positive, to provide positive reinforcement. Again this was an effort to try and open a dialogue with Russia to express our concerns about how the Putin government has behaved. There is overwhelming support in Congress for the sanctions that we passed last year to try and hold them accountable for their interference in our elections, and for their continuing and ongoing efforts to interfere and provide disinformation in the country, to hold their outlets like RT News accountable. It's a propaganda outlet for the Russian government. I've called for RT to have to register as a foreign agent because of those ties. They have finally agreed to do that. So that process is moving forward—[also] to try and hold them accountable for their cyber intrusions. Kaspersky software, which is a Russian company, has very close ties to the Russian FSB, the successor to the KGB, and we know that they have hacked into sensitive documents in the United States. So we've got a lot of behavior on the part of the Putin government that has been contrary to the way civilized nations behave.
So do you see more sanctions in the future, and a lot of bipartisan support for that?
I do see bipartisan support for looking for ways that we can continue to address the Russian government's behavior. We're expecting a number of high profile reports from the administration in the coming months, and I think those will provide an opportunity for us to see what next steps might be to try and address Putin's behavior.