News Release

Russia Sanctions: A Dangerous Political Football

Senators Richard Durbin, Chris Coons, and Amy Klobuchar discuss the White House inquiry into election records, July 11, 2017. (AP Photo / Jacquelyn Martin)

Senators Richard Durbin, Chris Coons, and Amy Klobuchar discuss the White House inquiry into election records, July 11, 2017. (AP Photo / Jacquelyn Martin)

CNN reports today: “President Donald Trump signed into law Wednesday morning legislation that levies new sanctions against Russia and restricts Trump’s own ability to ease sanctions in place against Moscow.

“The bill is one of the first major pieces of legislation that was sent to Trump’s desk, and it represents a rebuke of the President by giving Congress new veto power to block him from removing Russia sanctions.”

RootsAction — which has put out a petition with over 60,000 signers warning of conflict with Russia being sparked by U.S. intervention in Syria — is sponsoring a news conference on Tuesday at the National Press Club.

DANIEL McADAMS, dlmcadams at gmail.com, @DanielLMcAdams
McAdams is executive director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. He has been writing extensively on Russia policy, see his recent pieces here.

VADIM NIKITIN, [in London] vadim.o.nikitin at gmail.com, @vadim_nikitin
Nikitin just wrote the piece “We Need to Stop Using Russia as a Political Football” for The Nation.

Nikitin writes: “By voting in new sanctions against Russia, Congress torpedoed the White House’s dream of rapprochement with the Kremlin. Yet its real target was not a foreign foe but an unpopular Republican president threatened by impeachment over alleged electoral manipulation. With the commander in chief dogged by perceived softness on Moscow and crippled by plummeting approval ratings, Congress chose foreign policy as the weapon with which to deliver its coup de grâce.

“The besieged president in this story is not Donald Trump in 2017 but Richard Nixon in 1973. Ostensibly targeting the Watergate White House’s controversial policy of détente with the Soviet Union, Democrat hawks joined forces with Republican deserters to push through the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which placed trade restrictions on Communist-bloc countries that prohibited free emigration, particularly concerning Jews. …

“That the USSR had just agreed to reduce travel restrictions mattered little to Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson, a neocon Democrat hoping to use the amendment as his cheap ticket to the presidency. Jackson never made it past the 1976 primaries, but his eponymous legislation soured U.S.-Russian relations for half a century. Today’s lawmakers seem hellbent on repeating the same mistake. …

“A similar pattern has already emerged with the sanctions newly codified in last week’s bill. Since their introduction in 2014, they have done nothing to roll back Russia’s occupation of Crimea. If anything, Moscow has become more willing to assert its interests abroad. Over the past three years, Russia has intervened militarily to rescue Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria and support Iranian proxies fighting the Islamic State in Iraq. Not to mention the main catalyst for this new legislation: the Kremlin’s alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election. …

“Most importantly, by preventing the president from relaxing the sanctions without congressional approval, the bill … threatens to emulate the worst aspect of its predecessor: the near-impossibility of repeal. As Jackson-Vanik showed, once Congress has added such a powerful instrument to its arsenal, it won’t readily part with it. Long after the Soviet Union itself receded into history, the zombie amendment continued to be used to punish Russia for a host of entirely unrelated issues, from opposition to the Iraq War to trade disputes involving frozen chicken. Indeed, Congress allowed Obama finally to repeal Jackson-Vanik in 2012 only on condition that he agree to replace it with new sanctions in the form of the Magnitsky Act, which targets Russian officials thought to be implicated in the death of a lawyer who had blown the whistle on a major corruption ring linked to the Kremlin.”

Nikitin is a Murmansk-born, London-based Russia analyst and financial-crime specialist. His commentary and book reviews have appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, and Dissent.