NEWSWATCH: “Why Did the Trump Administration Pass the Buck on Sanctioning Russia?” [excerpt] – Russia Matters/David Szakonyi

Portion of U.S. Treasury Department Building Facade, North Side, with Sculpture of Alexander Hamilton

David Szakonyi is an assistant professor of political science at George Washington University

This week’s highly anticipated news on additional Russia sanctions landed with a thud. For weeks, both Moscow and Washington had been astir about the impending steps the Trump administration would take against Russia based on legislation reluctantly signed by the president nearly six months ago” and overwhelmingly supported by Congress. The law, called the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, called for three analytical reports and the imposition of no less than five punitive measures, out of a possible 12, against Russia for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The administration instead chose to impose zero new sanctions, saying the current ones were working and the “mere threat” of additional steps had had enough impact. Now we’re left grappling with two questions: Why did the Trump administration reject Congress’ mandate to further punish Russia? And what does its inaction portend for future U.S. policy toward Russia?…

Sadly, the biggest outcome of the pass on new sanctions is that Russia’s interference in U.S. elections has still gone (and will continue to go) unpunished. U.S. lawmakers are already sounding the alarm about possible Russian interference in Mexican elections, and Trump’s own CIA director has warned of future meddling in the upcoming 2018 midterms. No matter what the Trump administration’s reasons for stalling on sanctions, the Russians can only read Washington’s inaction as a sign of weakness. More than a year has passed since Russian hackers reportedly influenced American voters. But the general public is only slightly closer to knowing the full truth about what happened, and the U.S. government seems uninterested in determining who was guilty of what and holding anyone accountable for their actions.

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