Russia threatened to retaliate against new sanctions passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, saying they made it all but impossible to achieve the Trump administration’s goal of improved relations.
The measures push U.S.-Russia ties into uncharted territory and “don’t leave room for the normalization of relations” in the foreseeable future, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Wednesday, according to the Interfax news service.
Hope “is dying” for improved relations because the scale of “the anti-Russian consensus in Congress makes dialogue impossible and for a long time,” Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said on Facebook. Russia should prepare a response to the sanctions that’s “painful for the Americans,” he said.
The bill, passed by a vote of 419-3 on Tuesday, would strengthen sanctions against Russia less than three weeks after President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held their first official meeting at the Group of 20 summit. The measure, which now goes to the Senate, would let Congress block any effort by Trump to unilaterally weaken sanctions imposed under the Obama administration for Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections and its support for separatists in Ukraine. The White House has sent mixed signals about whether Trump will sign the bill.
U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday that senators want to examine North Korea sanctions added to the bill by the House. If senators insist on changes to the bill, passage could be delayed, possibly until September, when lawmakers return from a recess.
"We all want this to become law before we leave here for the recess," Corker told reporters in Washington. He added: “The White House doesn’t like this bill. The State Department doesn’t like this bill. This bill is going to become law, OK.”
The sanctions are “pretty sad from the viewpoint of Russian-American relations and prospects for developing them, and no less depressing from the perspective of international law and international trade,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday on a conference call. Putin will decide on a response if the bill becomes law, he said.
Trump will sign the law because “he’s a prisoner of Congress and anti-Russian hysteria,” Alexei Pushkov, a senator in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said on Twitter. The sanctions are “a new stage of confrontation,” he said.
McDonald’s Corp. restaurants in Russia aren’t “a sacred cow” and should face “sanitary sanctions,” Pushkov said in a separate tweet. The fast food chain’s press office in Russia declined to comment immediately. The largest McDonald’s in Russia was shut for three months in 2014 as officials carried out some 250 safety probes of the company’s restaurants after the U.S. imposed sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
‘Nothing to Lose’
Russia has prepared “economic and political measures that will be adopted if the Senate and Trump support the bill,” said Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy chairman of the international affairs committee in the upper house, the RIA Novosti news service reported. Relations with the U.S. “are at such a low level that we have nothing to lose” by retaliating, he said.
Putin said after the meeting in Hamburg that he believed Trump accepted his denial that Russia interfered in the election. Congressional committees and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are examining possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, which Trump has dismissed as a “witch hunt.”
The House vote adds to deepening Russian gloom over prospects for a breakthrough in relations, six months after Trump took office pledging to improve ties with Putin. Russia threatened last week to expel U.S. diplomats and seize embassy property in Moscow after Ryabkov failed to gain agreement at talks in Washington for the return of Russian diplomatic compounds.
Putin refrained from immediate retaliation, drawing praise from Trump, when the Obama administration shut down the compounds outside New York and Washington and expelled 35 Russian diplomats in December over the election hacking.