WASHINGTON | President Donald Trump on Wednesday grudgingly signed into law new bill which imposes sanctions on Russia, a move Moscow said was tantamount to a full-scale trade war, dashing hopes for better ties with the Trump Administration.

The controversial bill which also imposed sanctions on North Korea and Russia had deliberately includes provisions which “handcuff” and curtail the President from easing the sanctions or other penalties against Russia.

The legislation which was overwhelmingly approved by Congress last week, conflicts with Trump’s foreign policy desire to improve relations with Moscow.  He then accused Congress of handcuffing him from any policy decision with Russia while and mocked them of their inability to make deals with foreign governments like him.

Presidents Donad Trump (R) and Vladimir Putin (L) at the G20 Summit in Germany on 7 July 2017. Credit: Carlos Barria

Although he signed the “flawed” Bill, President Trump criticized it as unconstitutional and infringing on his Executive powers to shape any foreign policy with Russia.  In response, Moscow said the sanctions “put paid to hopes that our relations with the new American administration” would improve.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in a Facebook post ridiculed Trump adding that the Trump Administration had demonstrated “utter powerless” before stating the measures were tantamount to war.

“The hope that our relations with the new American administration would improve is finished,” he wrote.

Trump’s litany of concerns about the sanctions, which also affect Iran and North Korea, nonetheless raised the question of how vigorously Trump will enforce them and pursue action against Russia.

“While I favor tough measures to punish and deter aggressive and destabilizing behavior by Iran, North Korea, and Russia, this legislation is significantly flawed,” Trump said in a message to lawmakers.

President Trump hosting a Small Business delegation on Tuesday while security officials and Department of Justice lawyers reviewed the Russian Sanctions Bill. Credit: AP

The new law allows Congress to stop any effort by Trump to ease sanctions on Russia.

Trump said in a separate statement that he was signing the measure “for the sake of national unity” even though he saw problems with it.

His hands were tied after the Republican-controlled Congress approved the legislation by such a large margin last week that any presidential veto of the bill would have been overridden.

Congress passed the measure to punish Russia over interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.

The legislation has provoked countermeasures by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said on Sunday the U.S. diplomatic mission in Russia must reduce its staff by 755 people. Russia is also seizing two properties near Moscow used by American diplomats.

Trump has repeatedly said he wants to improve relations with Russia. That desire has been stymied by U.S. intelligence agencies’ findings that Russia interfered to help the Republican against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump during a bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany on 7 July, 2017. Credit: Carlos Barria

U.S. congressional panels and a special counsel are investigating. Moscow denies any meddling and Trump denies any collusion by his campaign.

But Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he was disappointed that President Trump chose to sign the legislation behind closed doors, without the fanfare of television cameras and reporters present.

“The fact (that) he does this kind of quietly I think reinforces the narrative that the Trump Administration is not really serious about pushing back on Russia,” Graham said in an interview with CNN.

However, in his statements about the sanctions law, Trump complained about what he said was congressional infringement on the President’s constitutional power to set foreign policy.

Trump said he was elected partly because of his successes in business, adding, “As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”

The sanctions will affect a range of Russian industries and might further hurt Russia’s economy, already weakened by 2014 sanctions imposed after the annexation of Crimea.

Vice President Mike Pence, touring the Baltic countries has followed a hawkish line which endorses the controversial legislation while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson like Trump have been critical of it.

“The action by the Congress to put these sanctions in place and the way they did, neither the president nor I were very happy about that,” Tillerson said on Tuesday.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson like President Trump is critical of the Russia sanctions bill. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

“This isn’t news,” said Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.  “The thing is, the bill was approved and was going to automatically become law with or without the President’s signature.”

Targeting the Energy Sector 

Besides angering Moscow, the legislation has upset the European Union, which has said the new sanctions might affect its energy security and prompt it to act, too.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has warned of “unintended unilateral effects that impact the EU’s energy interests,” with Germany and other European countries fearful of the economic impact as a result.

Several provisions of the law target the Russian energy sector, with new limits on U.S. investment in Russian companies. American companies also would be barred from participating in energy exploration projects where Russian firms have a stake of 33 percent or higher.

The legislation includes sanctions on foreign companies investing in or helping Russian energy exploration, although the president could waive those sanctions.

It would give the Trump administration the option of imposing sanctions on companies helping develop Russian export pipelines, such as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline carrying natural gas to Europe, in which German companies are involved.

Meanwhile, Iran, which is also impacted said the measures violated the nuclear deal and they will respond in an “appropriate and proportional” manner.

The Kremlin has denied interfering in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election with Trump rejecting any allegations of his campaign colluding with Russia to help him win.

These new sanctions which was also in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, come months after Barack Obama dramatically expelled 35 Russian diplomats and confiscated some of their diplomatic properties.




Further editing by Manyika Review

Facebook Comments Box