Leading Republican Says Russia Sanctions Bill Not Finalized
A leading Republican senator says a bill toughening sanctions on Russia has not been finalized, despite earlier announcements of a bipartisan agreement.
Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters on July 24 that "we still have a little work to do," adding that he expected differences over details in the legislation to be settled quickly.
Corker's comments came just minutes after the White House said President Donald Trump would examine the bill, which also includes new sanctions on Iran and North Korea, to determine if it was the "best deal" for the American people.
"He's going to study that legislation and see what the final product looks like," White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on July 24 during a briefing on Air Force One.
The comments by the White House and Corker appear to back off earlier announcements from the administration and Congress over the status of the legislation.
On July 22, Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington said they had reached agreement on the legislation that would slap the new sanctions on Moscow and limit the president’s ability to ease or lift them by himself.
A day later, the White House indicated it was ready to accept the legislation, which the administration had originally opposed.
"We support where the legislation is now and will continue working with the House and Senate to put those tough sanctions in place on Russia until the situation in Ukraine is fully resolved," Sanders told ABC television on July 23.
Trump has repeatedly said he wants to improve ties with Moscow, triggering bipartisan concern in Congress that he could lift or ease sanctions punishing Russia for its 2014 seizure of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine.
So far, the U.S. administration has shown no indication it intends to lift Ukraine-related sanctions targeting Russia, which denies providing weapons and personnel to separatists in eastern Ukraine despite evidence of such support.
The bill is set to be considered in the House of Representatives as early as July 25.
The Senate will also have to vote on the new bill, which would require Trump to send a report to Congress outlining why the administration wants to suspend or terminate any sanctions. Lawmakers would then have one month to decide whether to allow such a move.
A refusal by Trump to sign the bill would likely trigger political backlash in Washington given the ongoing FBI and congressional investigations into Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election and contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials.
Objections to the legislation has come from Russia as well as from Washington’s European Union allies, who have been highlighting the effect it might have on joint energy projects.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia is "working with our European partners on implementing a number of large-scale projects."
"It goes without saying that we and our European partners attach great importance to finishing these projects and we will work towards this," Peskov said in response to a question about the potential effect on projects such as Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that is to carry Russian gas across the Baltic Sea to Europe.
"That is why discussions about 'sanctions themes' -- which could potentially obstruct these projects -- are a cause of concern for us."
In Brussels, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the EU is "activating all diplomatic channels to address these concerns [about] the U.S. measures with our U.S. counterparts."
"For us, G7 unity regarding sanctions is of key importance, as...is respect of the implementation of the Minsk agreement," he said, referring to the Western-backed 2015 agreement on a cease-fire and steps to end the conflict between Russia-backed separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine.
With reporting by RFE/RL Correspondent Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, Reuters, and TASS
Germany, France, Russia, Ukraine Agree On 'Immediate Measures' To Push Cease-Fire
The German government says Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine have agreed on a number of "immediate measures" to push forward with a peace deal brokered in 2015 to end the bloody fighting in eastern Ukraine.
The government in Berlin said late on July 24 that the so-called Normandy Group called for the immediate halt to all violations of the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists are fighting forces of the central government in Kyiv.
A statement after a two-hour phone conversation between the leaders of the four countries said separating Ukrainian troops and Russia-aligned fighters and the withdrawal of heavy weapons also are priorities.
Details on specific measures were not immediately provided.
A 2015 peace plan known as the Minsk accords has failed to stop fighting in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people since erupting in April 2014.
All previous cease-fire calls have failed, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the Group of 20 meeting in early July that progress in efforts to end the violence had been "very, very slow."
In the July 24 phone call, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko demanded that Russia stop sending weapons to the separatists and called for deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force in the conflict regions near the Russian border.
Poroshenko’s office said in a statement that President Emmanuel Macron criticized last week's announcement by a separatist leader who said he wanted to establish a new state in Ukraine called Malorossia, or Little Russia.
The Kremlin said in a statement that Russian President Vladimir Putin "presented in great detail Russia's approach on all key points of the [Minsk] agreement."
The United States and other Western nations have imposed sanctions on Moscow after it illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimea region and for its support of separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine.
Russia denies providing weapons and personnel to the separatists, despite evidence of such support.
A representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which independently monitors the conflict, also participated in the call, officials said.
The talks came as the newly appointed U.S. envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, traveled to Kyiv in an effort to revitalize the Minsk deal.
With reporting by dpa, The Kyiv Post, and AP
Barring any major developments, that ends the live blogging for today.
Latest from our news desk on Siemens/Crimea:
Russia’s energy minister downplayed any risk to the country’s oil sector following the disputed delivery of gas turbines built by Siemens to the Crimea peninsula.
The German industrial giant said last week it would stop delivering power plant equipment to Russia after the four turbines were shipped Crimea against the company’s policy and in violation of a contract with a Russian partner.
Asked by reporters in St. Petersburg July 24 whether the Siemens decision could affect Russia’s oil industry, Aleksandr Novak said no.
"We have a competitive market in the country. So what Siemens supplies can be delivered by other companies,” he was quoted as saying.
"As for electricity generation, we...have now learnt to produce the necessary equipment," he said.
Germany has urged the European Union to add four more Russian individuals and companies to the EU sanctions list over the dispute.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, prompting the EU and the United States to impose a series of economic sanctions.
Based on reporting by Reuters, Interfax