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Donald Trump blames Congress for ‘all-time low’ in Russia ties

LiveMint logoLiveMint 03-08-2017 Eric Walsh

Washington: US President Donald Trump said on Thursday Washington’s relationship with Russia is at an “an all-time and very dangerous low,” and blamed Congress for the situation, a day after he grudgingly signed into law sanctions against Moscow.

Congress overwhelmingly approved the sanctions last week, leaving Trump with little choice but to sign the legislation although he has long expressed a desire for better ties with Russia.

Even as he signed the bill on Wednesday, Trump strongly criticized it. He complained the measure, which allows Congress to stop him from easing sanctions on Russia, infringed on his presidential powers to shape foreign policy.

Russia responded by saying the sanctions amounted to a full-scale trade war and an end to hopes for better ties with the Trump administration.

“Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low,” Trump said in a Twitter post on Thursday.

“You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!” added, referring to a bitter setback this month when his fellow Republicans, who control both chambers in Congress, failed to push healthcare legislation through the Senate.

Trump’s desire for better ties with Moscow has been hamstrung by the findings of US intelligence agencies that President Vladimir Putin’s government meddled in the 2016 US presidential election campaign. US congressional panels and a special counsel are investigating. Moscow denies any meddling and Trump denies any collusion by his campaign.

Congress passed the new sanctions to punish Russia over the election interference and the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014. Republicans and Democrats usually are strongly divided on many issues but the measure drew wide support from both parties.

Senator blames Putin

Republican US senator Tom Cotton, asked about Trump’s tweet in an MSNBC interview, agreed US-Russian ties were “at a very low point” but rejected the president’s blame.

“Ultimately, the responsibility falls primarily on Vladimir Putin,” Cotton said, pointing to Russian actions over Ukraine, arms control treaty violations and alleged meddling in various Western nations. “We need to confront, put pressure on Vladimir Putin at every point.”

Despite Trump’s public misgivings about the sanctions, vice-president Mike Pence presented a tough stance against Russia during a tour of Baltic states this week.

Pence assured the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—all once part of the Soviet Union—that they would have US support in the event of Russian aggression. Russia will hold large-scale military manoeuvres in nearby Belarus this month.

Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate. asked for his reaction to Trump’s tweet, told MSNBC: “I can just tell you we saw real bipartisanship on Capitol Hill when it came to these sanctions. Democrats and Republicans agreed we had to tell North Korea, Iran and Russia ‘enough was enough.’”

The sanctions also affect North Korea and Iran.

Durbin said the bill deliberately included measures to ensure Trump imposed the sanctions and did not lift them. “We put requirements in the bill which most presidents have never seen to make sure this happens,” he said.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev denounced the sanctions on Wednesday and the Kremlin reiterated this on Thursday.

“Nobody should doubt that Russia will protect and defend its interests,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said at a conference call with reporters. “We in general believe that this policy of sanctions is short-sighted, unlawful and hopeless.”

Even before Trump signed the bill, Putin on Sunday ordered the United States to cut about 60% of its diplomatic staff in Russia by 1 September and took away a summer house used by US embassy staff. Reuters

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