WASHINGTON ― Six senators from both parties introduced a bill on Wednesday that would prevent President Donald Trump from easing sanctions on Russia without congressional approval.
The Russia Sanctions Review Act of 2017 would require the Trump administration to describe in detail for Congress any proposed sanctions relief. The administration would then have to demonstrate that the Russian government had stopped supporting “significant acts intended to undermine the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine” and ended all “cyberattacks” against the U.S. government or individual Americans.
Both houses of Congress would then have 120 days to reject the proposed sanctions relief, or otherwise “take action” on them, before the reductions in sanctions came into effect.
Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) joined Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Ben Cardin (Md.) in co-sponsoring the bill.
“To provide relief at this time would send the wrong signal to Russia and our allies who face Russian oppression,” Graham said in a statement. “Sanctions relief must be earned, not given.”
The United States levied sanctions against Russia in 2014 for its intervention in Ukraine, when it annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and subsequently provided support to pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine. The Obama administration levied additional sanctions against the country in December for its alleged interference in the American election.
Among congressional Republicans, McCain, Rubio and Graham have perhaps been the most openly critical of Trump’s suggestions that he is open to warmer relations with Moscow.
Trump has shocked many observers with his relative unwillingness to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin, including Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. The president’s conciliatory approach to Russia has also raised questions about his possible conflicts of interest, since U.S. intelligence agencies believe Putin’s government hacked Democratic emails in an effort to bolster Trump’s presidential candidacy.
It is not clear, however, if the Trump administration plans to ease either set of sanctions against Russia.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley indicated on Thursday that sanctions would remain in place until Russia withdrew from Crimea.
“Crimea is a part of Ukraine,” Haley said in her first official speech at the UN. “Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine.”
Asked Friday to confirm that the administration would keep current sanctions in place, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer merely referred reporters to Haley’s remarks.
“Ambassador Haley made it very clear of our concern with Russia’s occupation of Crimea,” Spicer said. “I think she spoke very forcefully and clearly on that.”