Trump Will Sign Russia Sanctions Law ‘Very Soon,’ Pence Says
President Trump will “very soon” sign a law limiting his ability to lift sanctions against Russia, even though he has “concerns” about the measure, Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday.
The announcement during a visit to Tbilisi, Georgia, comes as no surprise, because the Trump administration had signaled it would not stand in the law’s way. But it nonetheless carries significance: It is the first time that Congress, with both houses controlled by Mr. Trump’s fellow Republicans, has imposed its will on the administration on a major policy matter, and the legislation has helped bring relations between Russia and the United States to one of its lowest points since the Cold War.
At least in terms of diplomatic policy, the bet Russia might have made when, according to American intelligence agencies, it interfered in last year’s presidential election in the United States has backfired in spectacular fashion. The legislation was revised, however, to address concerns by American oil and natural gas companies that do business with Russia’s energy sector.
Though he was asked by a reporter about the election interference, Mr. Pence did not explicitly address it, reiterating instead the administration’s concerns about Russia’s “destabilizing activities,” including “efforts to support rogue regimes.”
In a brief visit to the Georgian capital, Mr. Pence delivered a message of reassurance to Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili. Russia and Georgia, both former republics of the Soviet Union, fought a brief war in August 2008; since then, Russia has continued to occupy the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in violation of international law.
“In a sign of our commitment, very soon, President Trump will sign legislation to strengthen and codify the United States’ sanctions against Russia,” Mr. Pence said. “As always, our country prefers a constructive relationship with Russia based on cooperation and common interests.”
But, Mr. Pence said, the current state of the relationship between the United States and Russia demanded a different approach. “The president and our Congress are unified in our message to Russia,” he said. “A better relationship, the lifting of sanctions will require Russia to reverse the actions that caused sanctions to be imposed in the first place.”
On Sunday, in retaliation for the sanctions legislation, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ordered the dismissalof 755 employees from the United States diplomatic missions in the country. Most of the employees will be local Russians working in the embassy in Moscow and consulates in three other cities, but diplomats are bracing for what a former ambassador has called “a shock to the system.”
Mr. Pence said on Tuesday that Mr. Putin’s actions would not sway the United States, echoing a message he delivered on Monday in Estonia, where he reassured leaders of the three Baltic nations — the others are Lithuania and Latvia — of the American commitment to NATO’s collective defense clause, known as Article 5.
“We hope for better days, and we hope for better relations with Russia, but the recent diplomatic action taken by Moscow, I can assure, will not deter the commitment of the United States to our security, to that of our allies and to freedom-loving nations around the world like Georgia,” Mr. Pence said.
While in Georgia, Mr. Pence inspected troops taking part in a joint United States-Georgian military exercise, which Mr. Pence called “a visible sign of our commitment to Georgia’s sovereignty and to her internationally recognized borders.”
Mr. Pence also responded to reports that the Russian military was preparing to send as many as 100,000 troops to neighboring Belarus, on the eastern edge of NATO territory, at the end of the summer, as part of a show of force.
“The current Russian exercises, which news reports today suggest will move up to 100,000 Russian troops into Belarus, is simply a confirmation of the importance of clarity within the NATO partnership,” Mr. Pence said.
Also on Tuesday, the day after Mr. Pence’s visit to Estonia, two NATO jets intercepted three Russian planes flying near Estonian airspace, according to Reuters.
“Two Spanish F-18 jets assigned to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission scrambled from Estonia’s Amari Air Base,” NATO said in a statement, according to Reuters, adding that jets from Finland, which is not a NATO member, also responded.
In Georgia, Mr. Pence portrayed the legislation on sanctions as “a very clear message that we mean what we say and say what we mean: that Russia’s destabilizing activities in Ukraine, their support for rogue regimes like Iran and Syria and North Korea, that their posture has to change.”
Mr. Pence also reiterated criticisms that Mr. Trump had frequently made of his predecessor, President Barack Obama. “It’s been a lack of clarity and commitment by the United States that’s created much of the instability in the world today,” he said.
He then referred to the “red line” warning that Mr. Obama made to Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, in 2012 over the use of chemical weapons. Mr. Assad’s forces carried out such an attack the next year in a Damascus suburb, largely without repercussions.
“When in the past America had spoken of red lines and not followed through on red lines, many argue that that emboldened others to act in ways that they would not have,” Mr. Pence said.