Critics of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders began spreading misinformation about his voting record on Russia after reports emerged that Vladimir Putin’s regime is boosting his 2020 presidential campaign. Their aim? To cast him as a leftist mirror image of Republican President Donald Trump whose sycophantic antics towards Russia is one of the few constants of his otherwise chaotic presidency.
Yet Sanders’ voting record — to say nothing of his rhetoric — makes it very obvious he is no friend of Putin, the world’s wealthiest oligarch.
In 2014, Sanders voted for the Ukraine Freedom Support Act which not only slapped sanctions on Russia but provided arms to the besieged government of Ukraine in its fight to repel Russian invasion.
In 2015, Sanders voted for the 2015 version of the Magnitsky Act.
In 2017, Sanders voted for Russia sanctions to be added to the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 in response to the Trump administration’s attempt to lift Russia sanctions.
In 2019, Sanders voted to bring a Russia sanctions bill to the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote that he missed because he was meeting with women who were sexually assaulted and/or harassed while they worked on his 2016 campaign. The legislation would have reimposed sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska lifted by the Trump administration and it fell short by three votes, so even if Sanders had cancelled the meeting at the last minute the measure would not have passed.
With that out of the way, it is true that Sanders voted against bills containing Russia sanctions on a few different occasions.
In 2012, Sanders voted against the original Magnitsky Act (most likely because it was part of a bill normalizing trade relations with Russia).
In 2017, Sanders voted against the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act that he helped insert Russia sanctions into because he feared hitting Iran with more sanctions after tearing up the Iran nuclear deal could lead to war. His press statement declared:
“I am strongly supportive of the sanctions on Russia included in this bill. It is unacceptable for Russia to interfere in our elections here in the United States, or anywhere around the world. There must be consequences for such actions. I also have deep concerns about the policies and activities of the Iranian government, especially their support for the brutal Assad regime in Syria. I have voted for sanctions on Iran in the past, and I believe sanctions were an important tool for bringing Iran to the negotiating table. But I believe that these new sanctions could endanger the very important nuclear agreement that was signed between the United States, its partners and Iran in 2015. That is not a risk worth taking, particularly at a time of heightened tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia and its allies. I think the United States must play a more even-handed role in the Middle East, and find ways to address not only Iran’s activities, but also Saudi Arabia’s decades-long support for radical extremism.”
Two years later, Trump came very close to bombing Iran in response to their increasingly provocative attacks throughout the Middle East, so clearly Sanders was right to worry that punishing Russia might not be worth doing if it led to a war with Iran.
Sanders’ votes and rhetoric are hostile to Putin and Russian aggression almost all of the time. He slammed Trump for giving Russian officials highly sensitive classified information during a jovial 2017 Oval Office meeting. He warned Trump against obstructing the Russia election interference investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in 2017. In 2018, he described Russia’s interference in the 2016 election as an “attack on our democracy.”
So why is Russia is boosting the 2020 Sanders presidential campaign? For the same reasons it ‘supported’ Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter: to promote division, push conspiracy theories, and disrupt what it terms “the main adversary” (the United States). Trump’s presidency has been a gift to Russia in this regard because he has done nothing but divide the country, push insane conspiracy theories, and disrupted basic government functions (for example, firing and failing to replace all the officials who ordinarily would handle the coronavirus crisis response).
So who benefits from equating Sanders and Trump or downplaying the policy differences between the two on the grounds that Russia is ‘supporting’ them both?