Trump says ties with Russia at 'all-time, very dangerous low', blames US Congress

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.
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 7, 2017.
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 7, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS, AFP, BLOOMBERG) - US President Donald Trump on Thursday (Aug 3) said Washington's "relationship with Russia is at an all-time and very dangerous low," and blamed Congress for the situation.

“Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low,” Trump wrote on Twitter.  “You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!”, he added in reference to a recent defeat in the Senate on his health care reform plans.  

Trump’s outburst came the day after he grudgingly signed off on a sanctions bill that had been passed by Congress, calling the legislation “significantly flawed” and arguing that some of its provisions were unconstitutional.  

The legislation – which also includes measures against North Korea and Iran – targets the Russian energy sector, giving Washington the ability to sanction companies involved in developing Russian pipelines, and placing curbs on some Russian weapons exporters.  It also constrains Trump’s ability to waive the penalties, a statement of mistrust from the Republican-controlled Congress.

Moscow had earlier warned of worsening ties with the US after accusing Trump of caving in to Congress by signing a law that could keep sanctions in place for years.

The legislation is "a declaration of fully-fledged economic war on Russia" that could last for "decades," Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wrote on Facebook. The Trump administration "has shown its complete weakness" by signing the law and "relations between Russia and the US are going to be extremely tense," he said.

Russia, which has already retaliated by ordering the US to slash staff at its diplomatic mission by almost two-thirds, could take further "counter-measures," according to the Foreign Ministry.

The law strengthens punitive measures imposed over Russia's intervention in Ukraine and meddling in last year's US presidential election, and gives Congress the power to block Trump from lifting them.

Its passage ended lingering Russian hopes that the billionaire-turned-politician could deliver on his campaign pledge to work with President Vladimir Putin and turn a new page in bilateral relations.

"The hopes have already ended even if there is a residual feeling that Trump, if he was allowed to, would behave differently," Fyodor Lukyanov, who heads Russia's Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, a Kremlin advisory group, said by phone.

Putin remained silent on Trump's decision to sign the law during his visit to Russia's Far East region on Thursday, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to discuss Medvedev's criticism of the US president during a conference call with reporters.

Mutual Interest

Russia will try to maintain some cooperation with the US in areas of mutual interest such as Syria, where the two powers agreed last month on a cease-fire near the border with Israel and Jordan, said Andrei Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, a Moscow-based research group set up by the Kremlin.

Though the law doesn't dramatically expand sanctions, the power it gives Congress to block presidential moves to ease them means they're likely to remain in place for years. The ruble, which has fallen nearly 3 per cent against the dollar this week as the Bill awaited Trump's signature, was little changed at 60.4551 to the greenback at 3:02 pm in Moscow.

While the immediate economic impact is seen as limited, restrictions on Russian access to western financing and technology could put a cap on the country's already lackluster growth prospects as it emerges from the longest recession this century.