Congress adopted new sanctions in late July to codify and significantly expand U.S. financial restrictions on Russia and tightly constrain the president’s exercise of policy in this domain. The sanctions bill was driven by concerns over Russia’s interference in U.S. elections and destabilizing aggression abroad, as well as a broadly held belief by legislators that the president is mishandling critical national security issues. With these new sanctions authorities, Congress is taking an unprecedented step to assume greater control over a domain of foreign policy.
Close allies in Western Europe have condemned the bill’s interference in continental economic affairs, whereas others in Eastern Europe more vulnerable to Russian coercion have welcomed the tough measures. Unlike the development of transatlantic sanctions on Russia in 2014 in response to its activities in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, this new set of U.S. sanctions features no coordination with, or counterpart in, the European Union. Members of the business community that will be impacted by the bill, particularly in the energy and defense sectors, engaged in a full court press to try and remove themselves from the crosshairs, with some success.
There are three points of significance from the new sanctions:
- Congress has created broad new sanctions on Russian energy, banking, and financial services; intelligence and defense; and railroad, metals, and mining targets, driven by concerns over the Russian occupation of Crimea, its support for eastern Ukrainian separatists, its destabilizing role in Syria, ongoing cybersecurity breaches, and its interference in Western elections.
- Though the sanctions are mandatory, the administration retains some discretion in their application, setting the stage for an ongoing fight between the executive and legislative branches over enforcement.
- Procedural provisions establishing new forms of congressional review will likely serve as a model for future sanctions.
These substantial shifts in U.S. sanctions policy will likely have two serious implications:
- First, if these provisions are replicated in future bills they will make sanctions, as a foreign policy tool, less flexible and more punitive, as Congress lacks the intelligence resources, bureaucratic capability, and legal flexibility to manage sophisticated sanctions implementation with precision or timeliness.
- Second, the new review process mandated by the legislation will immediately minimizes the incentive for adversaries to change policy as a negotiating tactic for sanctions removal. Even in the face of their favorable policy change, Congress will struggle to muster the will and coordination necessary to remove sanctions.
|What the Bill Does||Why It’s Significant|
|Expands sanctions to prohibit U.S. energy companies from partnering with Russian firms in new offshore, deep-water, Arctic, and shale oil projects where a sanctioned entity has at least a 33 percent ownership or control stake|
Gives the president discretionary power to sanction Russian energy export pipelines
Restricts dealing in any energy sector debt with a maturity longer than 60 days
|Expands the prohibition of such oil projects outside of the Russian Federation or its exclusive economic zone |
Represents an industry victory in lobbying to adapt the earlier proposal with no ownership or control threshold
This puts the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the crosshairs
Provision has attracted significant pushback from Germany, Austria, and the EU
Tightens previous sanctions that mandated a 90-day maturity limit
Banking & Financial Services Sector
|Restricts transactions in, provision of financing for, and dealings with any debt instruments with maturities longer than 14 days involving the financial sector|
Requires the Secretary of the Treasury to submit a report on the effect of expanding sanctions to sovereign debt and derivatives
|Tightens previous sanctions that mandated a 30-day limit|
This indicates that policymakers may consider future sanctions in this area
Defense & Intelligence Sectors
|Mandates sanctioning of any individual involved in a transaction with or operating on behalf of the defense and intelligence sectors||This may be a challenge to U.S. allies purchasing weapons from the Russian government or government-controlled firms |
The government plans to issue further guidance clarifying the scope of the provision
Other Economic Sectors
|Expands sectoral sanctions to include the mining, metals, and railways sectors||Expands scope of sectoral sanctions |
Represents a retrenchment from original Senate bill that had included the shipping sector
|Prohibits participation in the privatization of Russian assets if it unjustly benefits Russian officials or close associates||Could be meant as a means of preventing Russian crisis fundraising mechanisms such as the Rosneft stake sale in late 2016|
|Mandates sanctions against the sale or transfer of arms to Syria||Creates additional potential avenues for sanctioning individuals or entities|
|Mandates sanctions against persons responsible for human rights abuses||Creates additional potential avenues for sanctioning individuals or entities|
|Mandates sanctions against persons undermining cybersecurity on behalf of the Russia government||Creates additional potential avenues for sanctioning individuals or entities|
|Mandates sanctions against persons significantly contributing to corruption in the Russian Federation||Creates additional potential avenues for sanctioning individuals or entities|
Congressional Review & Codification
|Requires the president to submit a report to Congress to modify or end sanctions |
Institutes congressional hearings to review changes to sanctions
Gives Congress power to pass a Joint Resolution of Disapproval, which, if able override a presidential veto, would prevent the executive branch from lifting sanctions
Codifies Russian sanctions executive orders into law
Changes the sanctions language to make enforcement of many of the sanctions provisions mandatory
|Effectively institutes congressional veto over the president’s lifting, or significant modification, of sanctions |
Significantly limits presidential power in the foreign policy arena
Creates a new procedural standard that could likely be incorporated in other sanctions legislation
Makes sanctions more permanent by requiring a Congressional approval of any repeal
Limits the discretionary power of the president by requiring him to enforce sanctions
More from CNAS
CommentaryIs U.S. Policy Towards Venezuela at a Turning Point?
On March 31, the Trump administration announced a pivot in U.S. policy towards Venezuela. The United States has spent more than a year backing opposition leader Juan Guaido, w...
By John Hughes & Peter Harrell
ReportsEmerging Threats in Combating Proliferation Finance
Executive Summary For decades, the United States, its allies, and partners have been policing the international financial system in an effort to deny the world’s most dangerou...
By Neil Bhatiya
CommentaryHow an ease of sanctions may combat the coronavirus crisis
Pressure is increasing to ease sanctions on Iran and Venezuela in response to the coronavirus crisis. Prominent Democrats in Congress have called on the administration to lift...
By Peter Harrell
CommentaryCryptocurrency Laundering Is a National Security Risk
On March 2, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted two Chinese nationals for allegedly laundering cryptocurrency on behalf of North Korea. The laundering scheme ferreted away...
By Yaya J. Fanusie