A member of the GOP delegation who visited Moscow over the 4th of July says the Trump Administration should consider revising sanctions on Russia so that they focus more on Russian oligarchs than Putin’s government because it would be more effective and avoid hurting the Russian people, the Washington Examiner reports.
“You do something and nobody ever sits back and analyzes, ‘Well, is it working?’” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told the Washington Examiner. “And I think you’d be hard-pressed to say that sanctions against Russia are really working all that well.”
“I’ve always been concerned about the double-edged sword of economic sanctions can be used by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to blame America for any lack of economic progress — but again, on the ground, they don’t seem to be having a real horrible economic effect, not in Moscow anyway,” said Johnson, who also chairs the Foreign Relations subcommittee for Europe.
Other U.S. punishments have had a more pointed effect, like the sanctions imposed on Putin’s political allies and his oligarch favorites. Johnson said that’s an approach the U.S. should employ more often.
“They would love individuals who are sanctioned to have those sanctions released so they can start traveling around again,” Johnson said. “They do sting.”
Senator Ron Johnson, Republican from Wisconsin, says that America does not need to be enemies with Russia and returned from his trip looking for ways to build trust between the US and Russia. He acknowledged the importance of not appearing weak to Russia, which is looking to rebuild its Soviet era level of strength.
Sanctions were imposed by President Obama and other world leaders in response to Russia invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The sanctions were targeted at Russia’s banking and energy industries. In 2016, Obama expelled Russian diplomats and officials in response to Russia’s role in meddling in the election.
Congress passed the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” on June 15, 2017 with a vote of 98-2 as a response to Russia’s ongoing activities in Ukraine and Syria and the 2016 election interference. The bill was designed to codify into law a series of previous executive orders. An identical bill passed through the House and, with a few modifications at the request of the Trump administration, passed with a margin of 419-3 on July 25.
President Trump signed CAATSA into law on August 2 while making statements calling it “seriously flawed” and came under criticism for delaying in complying with the legislation. On September 29, 2017, the president delegated certain functions under CAATSA to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Director of National Intelligence. In March 2018 Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced a series of sanctions against Russian nationals, including those who had been indicted in the Special Counsel investigation.
In May of this year, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) accused the Trump administration of failing to comply with the provisions of CAATSA and requested an investigation in to matter.
Johnson said he’s worried that Congress over-reacted to Russia’s election interference, which resulted in legislation that tied Trump’s hands with mandatory sanctions.
“I’ve been pretty upfront that the election interference — as serious as that was, and unacceptable — is not the greatest threat to our democracy,” he said. “We’ve blown it way out of proportion — [as if it’s] the greatest threat to democracy … We need to really honestly assess what actually happened, what effect did it have, and what effect are our sanctions actually having, positively and negatively.”
Johnson also described the debate between the two countries during the Republican delegation’s visit regarding election interference.
Johnson said that during the trip, the Republican lawmakers decried the release of emails stolen from Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. The Russians denied the charges, and then accused the Americans of interfering in Russian politics and elections in neighboring countries.
“We would bring it up, and they would push back with all the ways we interfere with their politics in terms of funding of NGOs, and Radio Free Europe and Voice of America,” Johnson said. “We pushed back hard. I think they’re certainly on notice that there should be no meddling in 2018.”
Johnson concluded by stating “nobody yielded” in the hours long discussion.
Why It Matters
The Republicans who visited Moscow over the July 4th holiday did appear weak, both to many US observers and the Russian media. Russian media is reporting that the Americans asked to visit, asked to see Putin, and are being conciliatory.
Johnson told the Washington Observer that the Russians “don’t understand why their election interference has been blown up into such an issue. They don’t really have a clue, based on their perspective, of why the American public so supports punishing sanctions against them because of the election interference.”
This statement is either purposefully disingenuous or dangerously naive. The Russians know exactly why they are being punished and any lawmaker who publicly says otherwise shouldn’t be in office. The one thing that Vladimir Putin wants above all else is to have the sanctions that are tying his hands removed. Senator Johnson has now taken Putin’s side on the issue, after a July 4th visit to Moscow no less. He may have the best of intentions in making such a statement but doing so in the run up to the July 16 Helsinki summit between President Trump and Putin is foolish at best.
Furthermore, yet another Republican appears to the nation and to world to be taking Russia’s side and that image will be going with voters into the voting booth in November.