Despite early rumors that President Trump would lift the Obama Administration’s economic sanctions against Russia, it might not be so quick or so easy, if Congress has its way. Two pieces of legislation have been introduced in Congress, the first aimed at inhibiting the President’s ability to ease the current Russian sanctions regime and the second providing for more robust sanctions than currently exist.
The first bill, the Russia Sanctions Review Act of 2017, was introduced in both the House and the Senate in early February, with bipartisan support. Intended to allow Congressional oversight of any easing of the current sanctions regime against Russia, the bill would require President Trump, prior to the lifting of any sanctions, to report on the proposed changes and certify to Congress that Russia has ceased
“ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, supporting, or financing, significant acts intended to undermine the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, including through an agreement between the appropriate parties; and
cyberattacks against the United States Government and United States persons.”
Once received, Congress would have 120 days to review the report and hold hearings as necessary. This review period, during which the President would be prohibited from easing Russian sanctions, would allow both houses of Congress to pass a Joint Resolution of Disapproval on the proposed Presidential conduct. While the President may veto any such congressional action, the bill then limits the lifting of sanctions for 10 days following the President’s veto. In effect, the bill imposes a 4-month moratorium against any Presidential action intended to ease sanctions against Russia.
The second bill, the Counteracting Russian Hostilities Act of 2017, was introduced in the Senate, again with bipartisan support, but currently lacks a counterpart in the House. The bill targets Russian cyber hacking and other “aggressive activities,” such as its conduct in Crimea, and provides a menu of potential sanctions that must be imposed against persons and entities that meet certain specified criteria. The bill would impose asset freezes and visa bans on persons involved in Russia’s attempts to undermine cybersecurity and democratic institutions. The proposed legislation also targets persons/entities that engage in certain transactions with the Russian intelligence and defense sectors, or involving Russia’s energy sector, Russian sovereign debt, or investments that facilitate Russia’s privatization of state-owned assets. The menu of potential sanctions available to the President include, among other things, denials of Export-Import Bank assistance, export licenses, and loans above $10 million from financial institutions; debarment from U.S. government contracting; and visa and entry restrictions. Finally, while the bill does contain a Presidential waiver provision, it requires the President to submit a written determination that such a waiver is “vital” to U.S. national security interests or “will further enforcement” of the bill, and certify that Russia has made significant efforts to “reduce the number and intensity of . . . cyber intrusions.”