Russia isn’t happy now that Congress is biting back by expanding Obama’s last-minute sanctions against Moscow for interfering with the Ukraine and Crimea as well as the U.S. election. So, Russia has shut the door on Rex Tillerson’s undersecretary Thomas A. Shannon Jr., refusing to keep a scheduled meeting in retaliation for the addition of 38 new individuals and entities to the sanctions list. “Let’s remember that these sanctions didn’t just come out of nowhere,” said the State Department in an official release. That’s true — but at this point, the sanction story has as many twists and turns as there have been subpoenas in the Senate’s investigation into the Trump administration’s ties to Russia.
Undersecretary Shannon had been engaging in regular talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, including one last month in New York City, to discuss “bilateral issues of concern.” One would think that the mutual sanctions between Russia and the United States would qualify. But it seems Moscow is too angry right now that Congress released a new “maintenance package” of sanctions, and the meeting planned for this week is off.
The State Department explained the update was “designed to counter attempts to circumvent our sanctions and to maintain alignment of U.S. measures with those of our international partners.” In other words, the newly reinforced sanctions prevent the Trump administration from getting fast and loose with what it’s willing to offer Russia, especially if those offerings undermine sanctions put in place by our allies. One thing the Trump administration wanted to offer Russia was the pair of palatial diplomatic compounds that Obama kicked intelligence operatives out of at the tail end of his presidency. That was a separate action from the original sanctions which Congress just expanded, but Russia has had enough on the subject.
The Hill reports that it was Trump’s meeting with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko on June 20th that prompted the Treasury Department to add 38 individuals and entities to the sanctions list. It’s significant that so many major figures, from Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to Secretary of State Tillerson, have reiterated the United States’ stance in favor of Ukrainian sovereignty. The Ukraine, for its part, was eager to make inroads with the White House, even taking to Twitter to express its hopes for relations.
It’s also worth noting that Congress’s decision to put increased pressure on Russia by making the sanctions stronger and more specific, was a bipartisan move. Republicans and Democrats alike are spooked by the extent of the investigations to Trump’s ties to Russia, and are trying to contain anything that has even a whiff of wheelings and dealings. While Russia hasn’t made an official statement yet on the cancelled meeting with Shannon, it looks like they are none too pleased with Congress’ new found unity.