MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Democrats from the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee have been privately investigating Russia's alleged interference in Eastern European affairs since last spring, with the probe being initiated by Senator Ben Cardin and involving contacts with foreign diplomats from countries that have allegedly been targeted by Moscow, as well as assistance by US embassies in those countries in gathering information, the Daily Beast newspaper reported, citing lawmakers' aides.
According to the newspaper, the committee's Republican members were invited to participate in the report's preparation, and it’s unclear why they chose not to join the Democrats.
Micah Johnson, a spokesperson for Committee chairman Bob Corker, has confirmed that the Republicans had been aware that Senator Cardin has been developing a report on Russia's alleged efforts to interfere in European elections, but his staff has not yet shared the details with the Republicans.
Moscow has repeatedly denied Russia's interference in the US election which is being investigated separately by the US Congress and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, calling the claims "groundless" and "absurd."
In the wake of US media reports claiming the alleged Russian meddling in the November 2016 election, media outlets in several European countries, including France and Germany, have begun speculating about Moscow's "attempts" to interfere in their countries' affairs.
Responding to these accusations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called the claims ridiculous, emphasizing that there was no proof that Russia was involved in the election processes of the United States, Germany, France, or the United Kingdom.
US Budget to Counter Alleged "Russian Aggression" in Europe
A similar stance on Russia's policy in Europe was reflected in the 2018 US draft budget, unveiled Wednesday, which stipulates the allocation of $4.6 billion for what is described as "countering Russian aggression" in Europe.
"[The bill] authorizes $4.6 billion for the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) to reassure NATO allies and enhance the U.S. deterrent and defense postures in Europe," the document reads.
This exceeds the initial request of US President Donald Trump's administration, which proposed to allocate $3.4 billion for deterring Russia in the 2018 fiscal year.
"Deterring Russia" has become an item of the US defense budget for the first time in 2015, with the US government spending nearly $1 billion for these purposes in 2015 and $790 million in the 2016 fiscal year. The initiative stipulates strengthening US military presence in Europe, expansion of drill programs, infrastructure improvement and the enhancement of partnerships in the region.
Defense Budget Bill
The US defense budget proposal also includes proposals on banning media, "cable and satellite television providers, may not be required to carry video content from television stations to the extent that such content is owned, controlled, or financed by" the Russian government.
This move was lambasted by a number of Russian officials, including the country's communications watchdog and the head the Federation Council commission on information policy, who claimed that Moscow would make a reciprocal response in the event the bill was adopted. In particular, the officials offered to ban CNN from inclusion in any broadcasts, including in cable television packages and to deprive the "most anti-Russian" US media working in Russia of the opportunity to receive interviews from representatives of state institutions.