Speaking at a news conference in Finland on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin derided the sanctions bill now in the U.S. Congress as “illegal under international law” — but he said Russia’s response will depend on what ultimately gets passed.
“We haven’t seen the final version yet, so we haven’t got any kind of definitive view on it,” Putin said, “but we can see that over a lengthy period they are trying to provoke us more and more.”
The bill, which recently passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, proposes stricter financial penalties for Russia’s involvement “in eastern Ukraine, cyber intrusions and attacks, and human rights violators.” The bill also punishes Iran and North Korea for their weapons programs.
At the same time, the version the House passed with a vote of 419-3 would curb President Trump’s authority when it comes to waiving those sanctions.
“Often, a president has a freer hand in dealing with foreign governments, but the bill deliberately takes away that discretion.
“To waive sanctions on Russia, Trump would have to send Congress a report explaining and justifying his decision, and lawmakers would then get 30 days to decide whether to allow it.”
Putin called the plan “extremely cynical.”
“It is a great pity that Russian-American relations are being sacrificed to this domestic, internal American issue,” Putin said Thursday, according to CNN.”What we are seeing (in the US) is merely anti-Russia hysteria.”
And Putin has an unlikely ally in his argument that the bill is misguided: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who argues European firms will sustain collateral damage from the penalties.
“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 within a matter of days,” Juncker said in a statement. “America first cannot mean that Europe’s interests come last.”
And the Trump administration itself is reserving its right to veto the legislation or pursue a different approach.
“He may sign the sanctions exactly the way they are, or he may veto the sanctions and negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians,” Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, told CNN on Thursday. If the bill obtains enough bipartisan support among lawmakers, however, Congress would be able to override a veto.
Meanwhile, in Finland, Putin noted he’ll be holding fire until he sees the sanctions package that finally surfaces as law — if it surfaces at all.
“We know that we have many friends in the United States, we know that there are lots of people with common sense,” Putin added. “I hope that today’s situation will be over and we will then be able to transit to a different stage based on trust and confidence.”