US senators seek Russia sanctions over hacking, Ukraine, Syria
John McCain speaks to CNN (screen grab)

Senior U.S. Republican and Democratic senators will introduce legislation on Tuesday seeking to impose a wide range of sanctions on Russia over its cyber activities and actions in Syria and Ukraine.

The legislation is sponsored by Republican Senator John McCain and Democrats Ben Cardin and Robert Menendez, all influential legislators on foreign policy matters. Aides said several other senators, both Democrats and Republicans, are also expected to sponsor the legislation, increasing its chances of becoming law.

According to a preliminary summary of the legislation seen by Reuters, the bill would impose visa bans and freeze the assets of people "who engage in significant activities undermining the cybersecurity of public or private infrastructure and democratic institutions" or assist in such activities.

It would also impose secondary sanctions on those who engage with the Russian defense or intelligence sectors, which could affect international companies doing business with Russia. It also puts into law sanctions on Russia that President Barack Obama imposed via executive order late last month.

U.S. lawmakers have long called for a tougher response to Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and intervention in the Syrian civil war on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Their impatience has increased since U.S. intelligence agencies said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to try to sway the 2016 presidential election in favor of Republican businessman Donald Trump.

The bill also sets new sanctions over Ukraine and Syria, including putting into law four executive orders from the Obama administration sanctioning Russia over its actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Among other things, it would mandate sanctions on investments of $20 million or more in Russia's ability to develop its petroleum and natural gas resources.

The bill is being introduced a day before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds its confirmation hearing for Trump's nominee to be secretary of state, former Exxon Mobil chief executive Rex Tillerson.

Many lawmakers from both parties have raised questions about the decades Tillerson spent working with Russia's government as an executive at the oil company, and his ties to Putin. His hearing, set for Wednesday and Thursday, is expected to largely focus on those issues. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Andrew Hay)