Victory Abroad: Congress trumps Trump on Russian sanctions
The U. S. Congress sent a clear message to the Kremlin and U. S. President Donald J. Trump this week: America will keep toughened sanctions in place against Russia until federal lawmakers — and not the president — decide otherwise.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s blatant interference in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Trump and his ongoing war against Ukraine have united Congress in a way seldom seen in Washington, D.C.
The sanctions legislation, which lumps Russia in with North Korea and Iran, passed by veto-proof and near-unanimous votes: 98–2 in the U. S. Senate on June 15 and 419–3 in the U. S. House on July 25. Trump would seem to have no other option but to sign the legislation or face a near-certain override of his view.
It’s also hard to see that the sanctions will
be lifted anytime soon, since Russia shows no signs of returning the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine or ending its three-year war against the nation that has killed 10,000 people.
However, the European Union said it would retaliate if America didn’t take their energy interests involving Russia into account, so the effectiveness of the new measures will depend on how the Trump administration implements the new measures.
Why and what
“Russian behavior has been atrocious. They deserve these enhanced sanctions. Relations with Russia will improve when Russian behavior changes and they start to fall back into the family of nations,” Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican of Pennsylvania said, according to the Associated Press.
Section 257 of the bill states that the U.S. supports the government of Ukraine in restoring its territorial integrity, will never recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and condemns its invasion in eastern Ukraine. It calls on Russia to stop destabilizing nations in the region.
The U. S. also pledged to promote energy security in Ukraine. The sanctions would primarily hit Russian oil and gas companies and those firms in Europe which support energy export pipelines by Russia.
The measures would also shorten the duration of loans to Russian banks and freeze assets of Russian state-owned mining and railway companies, the BBC reported.
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, the new bill codifies sanctions into law by making them more difficult to remove without congressional approval.
Earlier in June, the U.S. expanded the list of sanctioned persons and organizations over Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, which now includes 160 individuals and more than 400 companies.
Moscow reacted predictably. In an interview with Interfax news agency on July 26, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the sanctions bill “a brainchild of Russophobes” and said it closes off the foreseeable prospects for normalizing relationship between the U.S. and Russia.
“We are entering the unchartered waters in a political and diplomatic sense,” Ryabkov said.
The EU has expressed concerns about how it will affect its energy security interests, especially the construction of Nord Stream II gas pipeline from Russia to Germany and a liquefied natural gas plant on the Russian coast of the Baltic Sea.
In a statement released on July 26, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker didn’t exclude the possibility of retaliation.
“If our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days,” he said. “America first cannot mean that Europe’s interests come last.”
London-based economist Timothy Ash thinks Congress has found a way to box in the unpredictable Trump.
“Despite Trump’s own ‘special chemistry’ with President Putin, in the context of the Russia-gate scandal now engulfing the Trump presidency, it seems inconceivable that he would risk battles with Congress by not signing this bill into law,” he wrote on July 26.
In any case, Ash wrote, codifying sanctions means they could be in place for decades and will likely deter foreign investment into Russia, unless Putin drastically changes his foreign policy.
Trump, however, still refuses to conclude that Russian hackers interfered in the 2016 elections, despite the unanimous opinion of U.S. intelligence agencies.
Before the House vote, Trump went on a Twitter rant, accusing his Attorney General Jeff Sessions of “weak position on Hillary Clinton’s crimes” and not investigating “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage his 2016 campaign.”
Trump’s evidence of Ukrainian interference involves Democratic National Committee operative Alexandra Chalupa, who looked into the ties of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to Russian government and Ukraine’s ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.
Still, the Ukrainian government is hoping for yet tougher sanctions against Russia and more support from the United States, including supplies of modern defensive weapons.
Ukraine is more hopeful with the appointment of U.S. special envoy Kurt Volker, who has spoken favorably of weapons for Ukraine. The decision, however, will ultimately be made by Trump, whose predecessor, Barack Obama, refused Ukrainian arms requests.
“It would give Ukraine an opportunity to defend itself if Russia were to take further steps against Ukrainian territory,” Volker said in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Paris on July 25.
He added that the move wouldn’t provoke Russia or embolden Ukraine to attack since “there already are more Russian tanks in Ukraine than in all western Europe.”
However, State Department’s spokesperson Heather Nauert said Volker’s opinion is not U.S. policy.
“We are not there yet. Let me take out the word “yet.” We are not there. The U. S. has not provided defensive weapons nor have we ruled it out to provide to the Ukrainians,” she said at a press briefing on the same day.
People walk past the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 25, 2016.
Allseas’ Solitaire vessel on Nov. 24 lays pipes for the Nord Stream II pipeline. The $10 billion, 1,200-kilometer project will be capable of transporting 55 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas across the Baltic Sea to Germany when completed by...