Millions of voters hoped that President Donald Trump would usher in a new era of improved relations between the United States and Russia, but recent events make it more unlikely than ever that it’s going to be possible. As the news developed that Congress had passed a new, brutal round of sanctions against Moscow stemming from the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election, Russian President Vladimir Putin finally retaliated for the last sanctions passed by the Obama administration. Putin had previously held off officially responding to the Obama sanctions, apparently on the hope that Trump would roll them back once he took office. But since that isn’t going to happen anytime soon, the Russian president has apparently decided the time is right for revenge.
In December, President Obama closed down several Russian diplomatic outposts in the U.S. and expelled a slew of Russian diplomats. On Friday, Putin responded in kind, shuttering several American facilities in Russia and kicking a number of U.S. diplomats out.
At a press conference in Finland on Thursday, Putin said he was frustrated by the lack of progress between the U.S. and Russia and blamed it on the election interference allegations, which he continued to deny.
“It is a great pity that Russian-American relations are being sacrificed to this domestic, internal American issue,” Putin said. “What we are seeing is merely anti-Russia hysteria. The election of the U.S. president, it is not our business, and it is not up to us to assess what he does in this very senior post, that’s up to the U.S. public. As far as the investigation is concerned, I don’t actually think it is an investigation because an investigation implies a full study and analysis of the situation.”
Domestically, President Trump has expressed his doubts about the sanctions bill coming out of Congress, particularly since they limit the White House’s ability to curtail them in the future. In an interview with CNN’s New Day, White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said that Trump reserves the right to veto the bill.
“He may sign the sanctions exactly the way they are, or he may veto the sanctions and negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians,” Scaramucci said.
The latter would undoubtedly be met with bipartisan condemnation, but President Trump has already proven that he’s just fine with that. He was elected on the promise of handling things in a different way, and that doesn’t include ceding his proper authority to Congress. These sanctions could have been passed while still giving Trump the discretionary power to negotiate with Moscow, find common ground, and improve bilateral relations. But they weren’t, because this nonsensical Russian collusion theory continues to hang over the White House, acting as an anchor on the president’s agenda.
If the Russians meddled in our election, a U.S. response is appropriate and necessary. But until and unless the Democrats can prove that Trump colluded with Moscow, there is no call to limit the president’s ability to direct our foreign policy.