Sanctions Against Russia Accomplish Nothing for the United States
President Donald Trump caved on August 2 to the anti-Russian drumbeats and signed a sanctions bill that angers America’s allies, needlessly antagonizes Russia, and undermines U.S. credibility abroad.
In expectation that the recent sanctions bill against Russia passed overwhelmingly by Congress would become law, Russia announced on July 30 that it will expel 755 American diplomatic personnel. In addition, U.S. diplomats in Russia will no longer have access to a recreation retreat and warehouse facilities on the outskirts of Moscow.
Officially, the U.S. sanctions bill is in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and its meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It includes a provision that gives Congress veto power over any attempt by the U.S. president to ease the sanctions, which could potentially tie President Trump’s hands in negotiations not only with Russia, but in the future with Iran and North Korea.
The Russian measure was a move that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recommended to Russian President Vladimir Putin in December when former President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S. for perceived Russian meddling in American elections. Putin, however in the mistaken belief that President-elect Donald Trump would match his governance with his rhetoric and try to improve relations with Moscow, instructed the Russian government to hold off until after Trump took office in an effort to work out the issue with the new administration. Since taking office however, Democrats have done everything short of painting President Trump as a former-KGB foreign agent. This has prompted President Trump to cool his relations with Russia in an effort to deflect that criticism. In fact, Putin noted in April that relations with the U.S. had deteriorated since Trump took office.
With regard to the anti-U.S. measures, Putin recently told the state-run Rossiya 1 television: “We waited for quite a long time that, perhaps, something will change for the better, we held out hope that the situation would somehow change. But, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon.”
Russia accused the U.S. of trying to foster an “unfair advantage for the U.S. economy.” Although, this may sound to some as simply the whining of an adversary getting its just desserts for electoral meddling, the bill is also alienating Western European allies. Germany’s Foreign Ministry recently called it “unacceptable for the United States to use possible sanctions as an instrument to serve the interest of U.S. industry” andJean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, even initially called for retaliatory measures against the U.S. from the European Union. The reason is that because the bill takes aim at companies financing Nord Stream 2, a pipeline which will provide much needed gas to Western Europe.
Although most members of Congress are not wringing their hands with glee that American natural gas will now be made cheaper to Europeans compared to Russian gas, it’s understandable that Europeans would view the timing of these sanctions as suspect. Just last month, Poland received its first shipment of American-harvested liquefied natural gas and Polish President Andrzej Duda supports a north-south energy corridor that would connect the Baltic and Adriatic Seas to avoid having to rely on the Russian energy giant Gazprom. President Trump even discussed with Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic at the recent G20 Summit a planned LNG terminal on the island of Krk.
It is a positive development that the U.S. is rapidly becoming energy-independent and competitive with Russia in its own backyard, but American companies do not need Congress’ help through punitive sanctions. In fact, this move is likely to hurt American exports as France and Germany pull away from the U.S. in the direction of Moscow.
This bill is not a protectionist measure but, rather a legislative attack on the president and his administration. Congressional Democrats are still under the illusion that Trump and his campaign colluded with the Russians and are seeking to tie his hands diplomatically. Republicans support it because it’s getting tough on Russia - a Republican pastime in a party who can’t seem to shake off the good old days of the Cold War.
President Trump has nothing to gain diplomatically by signing this legislation. Alexander Baunov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, pointed out on Facebook that it appears the Russian measures are a response to the U.S. Congress and not President Trump’s administration. He noted that the response came “immediately after Congress voted in favor of new sanctions but before Trump could sign off on them.”
Furthermore, President Trump has nothing to gain politically through this bill. A veto would have prompted Congress to override his veto and Democrats would have accused him of colluding with Putin and Republicans would have called him “weak on Russia.”
But, then again, what else is new?
Congress has not been a friend of President Trump since his inauguration. They have incessantly questioned his patriotism, accused his family and associates of colluding with a foreign power, and failed to keep their promise to reform healthcare.
Although, he called the bill “seriously flawed” when signed it, a veto would have sent a strong message to that body that he will not be bullied into accepting a foreign policy that was never his own.