There is now yet another opportunity for Donald Trump to show himself as committed to protecting American interests in the world over those of Russia, but it remains to be seen whether or not he will actually take that opportunity.
Earlier this week, Congress passed a new set of sanctions against Russia. Included in the legislation was a provision that bars President Trump from easing the sanctions without the approval of Congress. Russia, unsurprisingly, isn’t happy, and they’ve announced retaliatory moves that are like those the Obama Administration took against Russia at the close of President Obama’s time in office.
A U.S. diplomatic compound has been ordered to be closed and the total number of U.S. diplomats has been ordered to go down to 455; before Obama left office, his administration closed a number of Russian diplomatic compounds and expelled dozens of Russian officials suspected of serving as intelligence agents.
The deadline for the new restrictions on U.S. diplomatic activity in Russia to be obeyed is September 1. It’s not immediately clear how many diplomats will even have to leave Russia, with the Associated Press reporting that “U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Maria Olson could not immediately say what kind of cut would have to be made to meet Russia’s new requirements.”
Olson added that “Ambassador John Tefft expressed his strong disappointment and protest” with the new restrictions.
How will Trump respond to all of this? It’s certainly not as though he’s tweeted in defense of the U.S. diplomats who Russia has expelled. Checking the president’s Twitter feed is a pretty surefire way to see what’s going on in his mind. His response is likely to be along the same lines as the way that he’s chosen to address the already standing sanctions against Russia, namely, through wavering between non-commitment and outright suckering up to the Kremlin.
Trump, apparently, hasn’t even signed the sanctions bill yet, but he’s not likely to necessarily go that far and not sign it. The sanctions are in retaliation against both Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and against their 2014 invasion of the Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The sanctions, which target “crucial sectors of the Russian economy, including weapons sales and energy exports,” were revised prior to passage in order to address concerns from U.S. energy companies about the impact on their own business activities. The sanctions were also revised so as to make it easier for “U.S. allies in Europe to get access to oil and gas resources outside of Russia.”
The sanctions — that Trump has yet to sign — target “alleged corrupt officials [and] human rights abusers,” in similar fashion to sanctions that the U.S. has enacted in the past. Such sanctions are at the center of one of the latest developments in the ongoing scandal over the Trump team’s ties to Russia, with a Kremlin-connected lawyer having met with the Trump team in 2016 to lobby for the removal of certain sanctions.
The Trump team has expressed a serious interest in seeing Russian sanctions lifted in the past, and it remains to be seen what they will do with these latest sanctions.
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