The House Defies Trump; EU Vows Retaliation
The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (H.R.3364) passed the House on the 25th of July, despite the White House’s previous announcements that they were working towards a closer relationship with Russia. (1) H.R.3364 proposed sanctions on three of the United States’ largest adversarial nations, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. Democrats and Republicans came together and agreed on the passage of this piece of legislation with a landslide vote of 419-3, contrary to the growing trend of partisan politics of the last few decades on the Hill.
Congress intends to punish Russia specifically for its forced annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and meddling in the 2016 Presidential Election. (2) President Trump, however continues to downplay Russia’s involvement stating, “I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries,” Trump said during a stop in Warsaw on July 6th on the way to the G20 Summit. “I see nothing wrong with that statement,” he continued. “Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.” (3) Normally the President has the power to unilaterally lift sanctions but a provision in H.R.3364 blocks the President from specifically taking action on the Russia sanctions, instead the President must consult Congress first. Time will tell whether this is the beginning of an adversarial trend between the President and the Republican Party or if H.R.3364 is merely just a bump in the road in their relationship.
Not only will the sanctions have effects on Russia, but will have broad negative effects on the EU as well. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in reaction to the bill’s passage in the house stated, “The EU is fully committed to the Russia sanctions regime.” but he warned of “unintended unilateral effects that impact the EU’s energy security interests” (4). Three provisions in the bill (5) will have profound effects on EU countries:
- Penalize firms, including those in Europe, that contribute to Russian energy development, affecting companies involved the Nord Stream 2 (6) pipeline from Russia to Germany
- Shorten the duration of loans to Russian banks and Russian oil and gas companies
- Freeze assets of state-owned Russian mining and railway companies
In 2007, 38.7% of the European Union’s natural gas total imports and 24.3% of consumed natural gas originated from Russia, making it the primary supplier over South Africa. (7) The EU’s co-dependence on Russian energy has been a longstanding inhibitor for sanctions targeted towards Russia. The EU has raised concerns through its available diplomatic channels, but the Commission president, Juncker, says that if these are not considered sufficiently, “we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days”.
Congress must ask themselves how far they’re willing to go to strike back at Russia. As it stands, a true blow to Russia must be through the hindrance of their vast foreign energy industry, but this blow can only be delivered at the expense of the EU. Is the US willing to risk worsening relations with their strongest ally or make the sanctions ineffective to prevent necessary collateral damage?