Vic­tory Abroad: Congress trumps Trump on Rus­sian sanc­tions

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY BERMET TALANT [email protected]

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 re­acts

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’s ac­cu­sa­tions

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.

Lethal weapons

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...

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