US sanctions a declaration of economic war, says Russia PM

After days of acrimony between Russia and the US over a new batch of sanctions, President Trump lashed out at Congress for pushing a sanctions bill he only hesitantly signed.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at a meeting with members of the government in Moscow, on June 29, 2017.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at a meeting with members of the government in Moscow, on June 29, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW • Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev labelled new US sanctions "economic war", as businesses in Moscow pledged to shrug off the impact of the measures approved reluctantly by United States President Donald Trump.

This was followed yesterday by Mr Trump firing off a tweet blaming the US Congress for bringing Washington's relationship with Russia to "an all-time and very dangerous low". His words came one day after he signed the new sanctions against Russia into law, bowing to domestic pressure after the White House failed to scupper the Bill or water it down.

Expecting the move, Moscow responded to the measures last week after they were passed by the Senate, ordering the US to slash staff at its diplomatic mission in Russia by 755 personnel. The Kremlin said Mr Trump's formal approval did not "change anything" and no further retaliation was planned.

But Mr Medvedev fumed on Wednesday on Facebook that the move "ends hopes for improving our relations with the new US administration". "It is a declaration of a full- fledged economic war on Russia," he wrote. "The Trump administration has shown its total weakness by handing over executive power to Congress in the most humiliating way."

Mr Trump signed the legislation behind closed doors and then bashed it in an angry statement as "significantly flawed".

"In its haste to pass this legislation, the Congress included a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions," he said, including curbs on the President's ability to "negotiate" with Russia. "As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress."

The legislation - which also includes measures against North Korea and Iran - targets the Russian energy sector, giving Washington the ability to impose sanctions on firms involved in developing Russian pipelines, and placing curbs on some Russian weapons exporters.

It constrains Mr Trump's ability to waive the penalties - a statement of mistrust from the Republican-controlled Congress, which remains unsettled by his warm words for President Vladimir Putin.

The head of Russia's largest oil firm Rosneft - which has already been targeted by earlier US sanctions imposed over the Ukraine crisis - promised that the company would try to avoid more pain.

"We will seek to work in such a way as to minimise the impact of the sanctions," Mr Igor Sechin told Russian news agencies, adding that sanctions had "started backfiring" to damage American interests.

Iran reacted angrily, saying the new sanctions against it "violated" its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, and warned it would respond "appropriately".

The sanctions seek to penalise the Kremlin for allegedly meddling in last year's US presidential election and for Russia's annexation of Crimea. Washington has already imposed several rounds of sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine since 2014, and last December, then President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats over accusations of election interference.

Mr Trump said he would "honour" some of the new Bill's provisions, but stopped short of saying it would be fully implemented.

The White House said only that Mr Trump would give Congress' "preferences" more "careful and respectful consideration".

"I am signing this Bill for the sake of national unity. It represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States," Mr Trump said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2017, with the headline 'US sanctions a declaration of economic war, says Russia PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe