US Congress Approves New Sanctions

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a new bill to impose new sanctions against Russia, North Korea, and Iran. The vote was 419-3 and the legislation moves to the Senate where it will be once again voted. If the Senate votes in favor of the bill, it will be then sent to the President for signature or veto.

The bill is called “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.”

However, it is still unclear when the Senate will vote on the legislation as well as if some adjustments will be made. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker pointed out that he may want to fine-tune the bill, which was agreed upon by the House and Senate with a 98-2 vote.

“This is a strong, bipartisan bill that will increase the United States’ economic and political leverage,” Rep. Ed Royce, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters Tuesday.

The fact that the bill was overwhelmingly approved by both the Democrats and the Republicans is a message of bi-partisanship against Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. elections, military operations in Eastern Ukraine as well as the illegal annexation of Crimea.

The three votes against the bill all came from Republicans. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, Rep. Tom Massie of Kentucky and Rep. John Duncan of Tennessee voted against new sanctions.

Russia Condemns New Sanctions

Moscow quickly responded to the vote saying the introduction of new sanctions will worsened the already fragile relations between the two countries.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said the new legislation is beyond common sense.

“What is happening is beyond common sense,” Ryabkov said. “The authors and sponsors of this bill are making a very serious step towards destruction of prospects for normalizing relations with Russia and do not conceal that that’s their target.”

“We will work to find ways to move forward, persistently, consistently looking for ways of searching for compromise on issues, which are significant for Russia and, I think, for the US,” he said. “The fight against terrorism and the proliferation of WMD. We are ready for this cooperation.”

Russian lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev reacted on Facebook stating that Russia should “prepare a reaction, because there must be one.”

The EU’s Answer to New Sanctions

The European Union expressed frustration that the U.S. did not consult them prior to take the bill to a vote.

“New sanctions should always be coordinated between allies,” EU President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement.

The EU is greatly concerned that new U.S. sanctions could hit the Nord Stream 2 project, a joint project between Russia and the EU part-financed by European companies.

The Nord Stream 2 pipelines could be hit by new U.S. sanctions

The Nord Stream 2 pipelines could be hit by new U.S. sanctions

The Nord Stream 2 is an offshore natural gas pipeline from Vyborg in the Russian Federation to Grieswald in Germany. By 2019, it will have an annual capacity of 110 billion cubic metres with three lines.

“This is why the Commission concluded today that if our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days,” Juncker said. “America first cannot mean that Europe’s interests come last.”

According to Francis Perrin, an expert with the Paris-based Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), the European Union could respond to the new sanctions by asking Washington not to punish European companies, in exchange for certain concession on their part. The EU could also pass a legislation to block the new American sanctions and lastly, it could also ask the World Trade Organization to set up a working group to declare the U.S. sanctions null and void and introduce countersanctions.

That said, Perrin added that all members would have to set aside their divisions and stand united against future or possible U.S. sanctions.