Washington (AFP) – US President Donald Trump reluctantly signed off on new sanctions against Russia Wednesday, bowing to domestic pressure and putting efforts to improve ties with the Kremlin in peril.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the sanctions amounted to “full-fledged economic war on Russia” and demonstrates Trump’s “total weakness… in the most humiliating way.”
“It ends hopes for improving our relations with the new US administration,” Medvedev boldly declared on his Facebook page.
Trump signed the legislation behind closed doors, after failed White House efforts to scupper or water down the bill.
Trump’s reluctance was on full display in an angry signing statement, in which he called the legislation “significantly flawed.”
“In its haste to pass this legislation, the Congress included a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions,” he said, including curbs on the president’s ability to “negotiate” with Russia.
“I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress,” Trump claimed.
The legislation — which also includes measures against North Korea and Iran — targets the Russian energy sector, giving Washington the ability to sanction companies involved in developing Russian pipelines, and placing curbs on some Russian weapons exporters.
It also notably constrains Trump’s ability to waive the penalties, a statement of mistrust from the Republican-controlled Congress, which remains unsettled by Trump’s warm words for President Vladimir Putin.
“The framers of our constitution made the Congress and the President coequal branches of government. This bill has already proven the wisdom of that choice,” Senator John McCain said in a biting statement.
“I hope the president will be as vocal about Russia’s aggressive behavior as he was about his concerns with this legislation.”
– Russia meddling –
The sanctions seek to penalize the Kremlin for allegedly meddling in the 2016 US presidential election — which Trump won — and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Trump said he would “honor” some of the bill’s provisions, but stopped short of saying it would be fully implemented.
The White House said only that Trump would give Congress’s “preferences” mere “careful and respectful consideration.”
“I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity. It represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve…