Following yesterday’s almost unanimous House vote to pass new sanctions against Russia, on Wednesday Moscow threatened to retaliate, saying that – as expected – the action has made it all but impossible to achieve the Trump administration’s goal of improved relations, and vowed to retaliate to the latest sanctions which Russia views as senseless and destructive according to its deputy foreign minister said.
As described yesterday, the bill passed by a vote of 419-3 on Tuesday , boosted sanctions against Russia just 3 weeks after Trump and Putin held their first official meeting. The legislation, which now goes to the Senate, requires Trump to seek congressional approval before easing sanctions imposed under the Obama administration for “Russian meddling” in the 2016 presidential elections and its support for separatists in Ukraine. So far Trump has not definitively stated if he will support the bill with the White House sending mixed signals whether Trump will sign it.
The bill seeks to impose new economic sanctions against North Korea, Iran, and Russia, and received overwhelming support from US legislators. Moscow is being targeted for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election, an allegation that Russia denies and which has not been backed by convincing public evidence. Russia’s foreign ministry expects the bill to become law, which would inevitably prompt Moscow to retaliate, Ryabkov warned.
“What is happening defies common sense. The authors and sponsors of this bill are taking a very serious step towards destroying any potential for normalizing relations with Russia,” Sergey Ryabkov told the media on Wednesday, referring to an act adopted earlier by the US House of Representatives.
“We told them dozens of times that such actions would not be left without a response. I believe the signal went through even though present-day Washington tends to listen to and hear from no one but itself,” Ryabkov added.
Russian senator Frants Klintsevich, who chairs the Defense and Security Committee, echoed Ryabkov’s sentiment. He said that Washington’s stance is dragging the world into a new Cold War, and compared the looming new sanctions to the notorious 1974 Jackson–Vanik amendment which targeted the Soviet Union with economic sanctions for obstructing the repatriation of its Jewish citizens to Israel, but survived even after the discriminative policy was canceled. The legislation has been is viewed by many in Russia as an example of unfair economic competition by the US under a pretext of protecting human rights.
Klintsevich said the US move “will make very difficult, if possible at all, any Russian-American cooperation on solving important international issues, including fighting against terrorism.”
Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said on Facebook that hope “is dying” for improved relations because the scale of “the anti-Russian consensus in Congress makes dialogue impossible and for a long time,” adding that Russia should prepare a response to the sanctions that’s “painful for the Americans.”
Trump will sign the law because “he’s a prisoner of Congress and anti-Russian hysteria,” Alexei Pushkov, Russian upper house of parliament senator said on Twitter. The sanctions are “a new stage of confrontation,” he said. McDonald’s restaurants in Russia aren’t “a sacred cow” and should face “sanitary sanctions,” Pushkov said in a separate tweet. The fast food chain’s press office in Russia declined to comment immediately. As Bloomberg notes, the largest McDonald’s in Russia was shuttered for three months in 2014 amid about 250 safety probes of the company’s restaurants by officials after the U.S. imposed sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Russia has prepared “economic and political measures that will be adopted if the Senate and Trump support the bill,” said Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy chairman of the international affairs committee in the upper house, the RIA Novosti news service reported. Relations with the U.S. “are at such a low level that we have nothing to lose” by retaliating, he said.
It wasn’t just Russia: the US bill also sparked concern in Europe. European governments and business leaders fear the sanctions would hurt crucial joint energy projects with Russia and may be motivated by Washington’s desire to take over the European natural gas market from Russia in favor of American liquefied natural gas.
In a statement on Wednesday morning, EU Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said that “the US bill could have unintended unilateral effects that impact the EU’s energy security interests. This is why the Commission concluded today that if our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently we stand ready to act appropriately with a matter of days”
“America first can not mean that Europe’s interests come last”
Finally, the German foreign ministry also chimed in when with its spokesman saying that the “US does not have the right to tell German companies how they should act with foreign business partners.”
And so, as we explained a month ago when the various conflicting tensions first emerged, Trump is trapped: unable to veto the bill, as he would be seen as promoting a pro-Russian agenda in a rather “sensitive” time, signing the bill will promptly lead to a deterioration of relations with Europe, whose own relations with Russia appear to have been far more important than the continent let on…
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