Op-Ed: Relations between the US and Russia becoming much worse

Posted Aug 3, 2017 by Ken Hanly
In spite of Trump's alleged collusion with the Russians during the US election campaign and his avowed aim of achieving better relations with Russia the reality is that relations between the two countries is becoming much worse.
The western front of the United States Capitol
The western front of the United States Capitol
Architect of the Capitol /
The US Congress passed new sanctions on Russia, as well as Iran and North Korea. The vote in the House was an overwhelming 419 for to just 3 against with the later Senate vote just as lop-sided at 98 for and two against. Punishing Russia is one of very few issues on which there is strong bi-partisan support in Congress. While the president was opposed to the bill he did not veto it. The veto could have been easily overturned and would have brought even more critics to claim that Trump was colluding with Moscow. The bill also contains provisions that prevent Trump from easing sanctions on Moscow. The US Congress seems bound and determined to ensure that US relations with Russia do not improve but will deteriorate even more. The bill will also strain relations with Iran even further and will cause some Iranian hardliners to point to the sanctions as a sign that the US is not to be trusted.
Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev said the new sanctions show that the Trump administration is "utterly powerless" and that the sanctions were tantamount to a "full scale trade war" between Russia and the US. In a Facebook post Medvedev said: "The hope that our relations with the new American administration would improve is finished." While signing the sanctions into law, Trump said that the measures infringed upon his powers to shape foreign policy. He said he could make better deals with foreign governments than Congress. Nevertheless, the White House claimed that Trump supported the new sanctions as he wanted to pressure Russia, Iran, and North Korea. The White House may have been trying to dispel claims that Trump was pressured into accepting the sanctions by lawmakers. The claims seem quite likely to be true. Trump really had little choice but to sign the bill or face even more criticism after his veto was overturned. The White House also denied that Trump spoke to Putin before the legislation.
In a formal signing statement Trump said: "While I favor tough measures to punish and deter aggressive and destabilizing behavior by Iran, North Korea, and Russia, this legislation is significantly flawed." Earlier, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he and Trump did not think new sanctions would be helpful in furthering diplomatic relations with Russia. Yet Vice-President Mike Pence said that signing the bill showed Trump and Congress were speaking with a unified voice. Rather, Congress was forcing Trump to agree with the bill.
The Russians were unwilling to forgo retaliation in order not to force Trump into replying with even more attempts to punish Moscow. President Putin ordered that the American diplomatic mission in Russia reduce its staff by 755 employees. Putin said that Russia had run out of patience waiting for relations with the US to improve. Putin said on TV:“We waited for quite a long time that, perhaps, something will change for the better, we held out hope that the situation would somehow change. But, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon. Over 1,000 employees — diplomats and technical workers — worked and continue to work today in Russia; 755 will have to stop this activity."
Iran said the new sanctions against it by the US broke the terms of the nuclear deal that it had with the US and a number of other world powers. It vowed an appropriate and proportional response. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on TV: "The main goal of America in approving these sanctions against Iran is to destroy the nuclear deal and we will show a very intelligent reaction to this action." Araqchi could be right about the US wanting to destroy the nuclear deal. On this, Trump is in accord with the US Congress most likely. Arachi said that Iran wanted to respond in a way that did not get involved in the politics of the US government and Trump. It is hard to see how any response could avoid this happening.
Germany and some other European countries have come out against the new US sanctions claiming that they could hurt their economies. Germany and the EU even threatened retaliation. The US is taking actions that are bringing China Russia and Iran closer together and now appear to be alienating key allies in Europe. President Trump tweets: "Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can't even give us HCare! " Trump may be president but he may be learning that the US Congress is boss.