President-elect Donald Trump will keep U.S. sanctions against Russia in place "at least for a period of time," he has said in an interview, adding that he would consider lifting the sanctions once Russian President Vladimir Putin proves he can be an ally.
"If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?" Trump said in the interview published in The Wall Street Journal on January 13, a week before his inauguration.
Trump has said he wants to improve relations with Moscow and would take a second look at the sanctions, although several of his chosen cabinet members said this week that they support the restrictive measures.
In a move appeared designed to make it harder for Trump to roll back the sanctions after Barack Obama leaves office on January 20, the president extended on January 13 all U.S. sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and its backing of separatists in the country’s east.
Obama said the Russian government and other people and organizations targeted by the sanctions have "undermined democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine" by their "use of force in Ukraine" and thereby "threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity."
Because of the threat to Ukraine, Obama added, Russia's actions "pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States."
The European Union has parallel sanctions on Russia that are due to expire in July. Italy and other EU members have said they would push to end the sanctions, especially if Trump carries out a softening of U.S. policy toward Russia.
In December, Obama decided to hit Russian intelligence officials and agencies with sanctions for cyberattacks aimed at interfering with the U.S. presidential campaign.
After 35 Russian operatives were expelled from the United States, Putin said Moscow wouldn’t retaliate because he was waiting for Trump to take office.
Also on January 13, the two most senior members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee announced it would investigate possible contacts between Russia and the people associated with U.S. political campaigns as part of a broader investigation into Moscow's alleged meddling in the election.
In a statement, committee chairman Richard Burr and Mark Warner, the panel's top Democrat, said the allegations "raise profound concerns" and that their bipartisan investigation "will follow the intelligence where it leads" in reaching conclusions about the extraordinary episode in U.S. political history.
Burr and Warner said that as part of the probe they will interview senior officials from the Obama administration and Trump’s team.
They said subpoenas would be issued "if necessary to compel testimony."
A declassified intelligence report released last week said Putin ordered a hidden campaign to influence the election to favor Trump over the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, revelations that have roiled Washington and Moscow, which denies the allegations.
Trump has staunchly resisted the findings and leveled a series of broadsides at U.S. intelligence agencies.
However, he acknowledged for the first time on January 11 that Russian hackers intruded on servers of U.S. institutions.
The move came a day after news reports said a classified intelligence dossier given to Obama and Trump last week contained salacious and compromising information gathered by Russia on the Republican president-elect, who rejected the claims as "fake news."