Trump signs Russia sanctions bill, Moscow
calls it 'trade war'
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[August 03, 2017]
By Roberta Rampton and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President
Donald Trump grudgingly signed into law new sanctions against Russia on
Wednesday, a move Moscow said amounted to a full-scale trade war and an
end to hopes for better ties with the Trump administration.
Congress overwhelmingly approved the legislation last week, passing a
measure that conflicts with the Republican president's desire to improve
relations with Moscow.
Trump signed the bill behind closed doors, without the fanfare that has
customarily accompanied his signing of executive orders. He criticized
the measure as infringing on his powers to shape foreign policy, and
said he could make "far better deals" with governments than Congress
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the sanctions tantamount
to a "full-scale trade war," adding in a Facebook post that they showed
the Trump administration had demonstrated "utter powerlessness."
"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, raised the question of how vigorously Trump will
implement them regarding 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 known as a signing statement. He also issued a statement for
the press about the bill.
The new law allows Congress, which passed the measure to punish Russia
over interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the
annexation of Ukraine's Crimea, to halt any effort by Trump to ease
sanctions on Russia.
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.
The legislation provoked countermeasures by Russian President Vladimir
Putin, who said on Sunday that 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.
U.S. congressional panels and a special counsel are investigating.
Moscow denies any meddling and Trump denies any collusion by his
MIXED SIGNALS ON RUSSIA
Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan welcomed the
signing, saying it would send "a powerful message to our adversaries
that they will be held accountable."
In his statements on the sanctions law, Trump complained about what he
said was congressional infringement on the president's constitutional
power to set foreign policy, saying the law reflected congressional
"preferences" rather than a legal mandate.
“It is flagging those areas where the administration sees itself as
having wiggle room to underenforce the law by citing claimed
constitutional concerns," said Harold Koh, a Yale Law School professor
who was a legal adviser to the State Department during the Obama
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President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin
during their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany
July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
The House's top Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, said the signing statement
"raises serious questions about whether his administration intends
to follow the law."
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."
Trump's signing statement was the latest in a series of mixed
signals from the administration on Russia.
"I feel like there's several policies being implemented at once, and
they're not very compatible with one another. This is one more,"
said Olga Oliker, a Russia expert at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, a think tank based in Washington.
Vice President Mike Pence, touring Baltic countries adjacent to
Russia, has followed a hawkish line. Pence said Trump's signing of
the legislation would show that Congress and the president were
"speaking with a unified voice" on Russia.
However, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, like Trump, has been
critical of the legislation.
"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.
TARGETING THE ENERGY SECTOR
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.
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 retaliate if needed.
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
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.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Patricia Zengerle; Additional
reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey, Caren Bohan, Lawrence
Hurley in Washington, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and
Alexander Winning in Moscow; Writing by Frances Kerry; Editing by
Caren Bohan and Jonathan Oatis)
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