December 28, 2016 / 1:45 PM / 8 months ago

U.S. senator says Russia can expect sanctions after cyber attacks

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham speaks during a news conference in Riga, Latvia, December 28, 2016.Ints Kalnins

RIGA/TALLINN (Reuters) - Russia and its president Vladimir Putin should expect tough sanctions after cyber attacks during the presidential election won by Donald Trump, U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Republican and Democratic senators including Graham called for a bipartisan panel to investigate cyber attacks against the United States by foreign countries, with a focus on Russia's alleged efforts to influence the U.S. presidential election.

"There will be bipartisan sanctions coming that will hit Russia hard, particularly Putin as an individual," Graham said in the Latvian capital.

NATO members Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, all ruled by Moscow in communist times, have been alarmed by Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014 and its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

"It is now time for Russia to understand – enough is enough," Graham said.

He did not elaborate further on what the sanctions could entail.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia tried to influence the Nov. 8 election by hacking individuals and institutions, including Democratic Party bodies.

Russian officials have denied accusations of interference in the election.

"Here's what you can expect in 2017 in the United States – a bipartisan effort in Congress to push back against the Russian interference in our election," Graham said at a stop on a three-day visit to the Baltics with fellow Republican senator John McCain, seen as a bid to soothe concerns over the policy of President-elect Trump.

Separately, the Estonian defence minister said the country was increasing its efforts to defend itself against cyber attacks after NATO recognised cyber attacks as an element of warfare, alongside land, sea and air.

In what Estonian officials say was a wake-up call, the country was hit by cyber attacks on extensive private and government Internet sites in 2007. State websites were brought to a crawl and an online banking site was closed.

Lithuania also said last week the Kremlin was responsible for cyber attacks that have hit government computers there over the past two years. Putin's spokesman dismissed the allegations as unsubstantiated.

Lithuanian intelligence services, in their annual report, say cyber attacks have moved from being mainly targeted at financial crimes to more political spying on state institutions.

"We have almost finished the submission for the government to create the new cyber command and it should be up and running within two years", Estonia's Defence Minister Margus Tsahkna told Reuters on Wednesday.

NATO leaders agreed earlier this year to deploy military forces to the Baltic states and eastern Poland for the first time and increase air and sea patrols to reassure allies on its eastern border.

Estonia is due to host around 1,000 British, French and Danish troops in 2017.

Reporting by Gederts Gelzis in Riga and David Mardiste in Tallinn; Writing by Daniel Dickson; Editing by Alison Williams

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