POLITICS

Senate GOP Blocks Bid To Enforce Sanctions On Putin Ally

The Trump administration's move to ease sanctions on firms owned by Oleg Deripaska is now likely to go forward.

WASHINGTON ― Most Senate Republicans voted on Wednesday against the enforcement of sanctions on several companies tied to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Eleven Republicans broke ranks with party leadership and the Trump administration by voting with Democrats to advance the measure, but it failed to garner the necessary 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. It garnered 57 votes; all 42 senators voting against it were Republicans.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced last month its plan to lift sanctions imposed on the core businesses of aluminum magnate Deripaska, including EN+, Rusal and energy firm JSC EuroSibEnergo. In seeking to lift the sanctions, top Trump administration officials argued that Deripaska had sufficiently divested control of the firms and that keeping the penalties in place for Deripaska-linked aluminum producing companies would benefit other aluminum companies based in China and elsewhere.

But even some Republicans who usually support President Donald Trump and his agenda didn’t buy the argument that Deripaska still wouldn’t in some way control the companies from which he divested his interests.

“Maybe that would work in America but in Russia, there are other ways of owning a corporation than just giving up shares,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told HuffPost Wednesday.

Kennedy said he appreciated Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s briefing members of the Senate GOP caucus about the administration’s efforts to enforce the agreement they reached with the companies to limit Deripaska’s control, but he had a hard time believing it would work.

“I’m not suggesting Secretary Mnuchin is wrong― he’s just a little more trusting than I am,” Kennedy said.

One of the firms, aluminum company Rusal, recently installed a board chairman who has backed the controversial Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 that got Deripaska sanctioned in the first place, The Daily Beast reported on Wednesday.

Democrats also expressed concern about Deripaska’s deep ties with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager convicted last year of financial crimes uncovered by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia. The Democrats urged the administration to enforce the sanctions until the investigation has concluded.

The resolution, brought to the floor by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), likely would have faced a Trump veto even if it advanced on Wednesday.

Schumer, in comments on the Senate floor, questioned why more Republicans weren’t willing to support the resolution, given their decades-long rhetoric about standing up toward Russia and Putin.  

“In so many campaigns for president, we Democrats were accused of not being tough enough on the Russians. I have always felt we have to be tough on the Russians,” Schumer said. “But it seems that acquiescence to the president, a fear of breaking with the president, has held back too many of my Republican colleagues from supporting this resolution.”

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