On 14 June 2017, the U.S. Senate slapped more sanctions on Russia by voting on the so-called The Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia Act of 2017 (CRIEEA). The bill was introduced on the most recent U.S. Iran Sanctions – Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 (CIDAA – S.722). CRIEEA expands on existing U.S. Russia related sanctions.
CRIEEA aims to codify existing Russia-related sanctions and obligate a congressional review of any attempts by the Trump Administration to modify or terminate them. In a rare bi-partisan co-operation between Democrats and Republicans, the CRIEEA aims to impose new sanctions on Russia in view of it’s controversial involvement in the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine and the last U.S. presidential elections. It’s unclear whether the CRIEEA will become law, given that’s there’s less Congressional support (the House of Representatives must decide on further Russia related sanctions) for further sanctions against Russia and the fact that the Trump Administration opposes the bill.
Key Provisions of CRIEEA
Section 216 of CRIEEA imposes a congressional review regime with respect to any Presidential “action” that would modify or terminate the existing sanctions regime against Russia. Ultimately, this could mean that Congress could not only block Presidential action, but also reverse it.Prior Congressional approval is not required for the imposition of new sanctions.
The section was introduced following concerns of the U.S. Congress that President Trump wanted to ease or even terminate certain U.S. Russia related sanctions.
CRIEEA aims to also codify the six existing Russia-related Executive Orders (see above links). This would have the effect of stopping President Trump from altering them without affirmative Congressional action.
CRIEEA thus attempts to limit the President’s authority to terminate the sanctions imposed under the listed Executive Orders (EO’s) or otherwise repeal the sanctions created under the EO’s. The new sanctions regime imposed by CRIEEA is, in many cases, mandatory, subject only to the President’s discretion with regard to whether an individual or entity warrants inclusion on an applicable sanctions list.
While the President would retain authority to waive the application of the EO’s and “mandatory,” provisions of the new sanctions regime with respect to specific individuals and entities, Congress wishes to limit President Trump’s authority by imposing a cumbersome, three-stage process of certification and Congressional review before Presidential waivers would be given effect.
Note that in regard to Ukraine and U.S. cyber-security-related sanctions, any waiver would require a certification by the President that Russia is, respectively, “taking significant steps to implement the Minsk Agreement,” or “has made significant efforts to reduce the number and intensity of cyber intrusions,” conducted by the Russian Government.
Potential Added Value of CRIEEA?
CRIEEA is another example of the U.S. Congress’ lack of trust for a U.S. President in the field of sanctions. Think of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (INARA).
Under the INARA, Congress established a formal review period to evaluate any agreement reached with Iran prior to the lifting of sanctions (in the context of the Nuclear Deal – JCPOA). Here, President Obama was forced to transmit the text of an agreement reached with Iran and relating to Iran’s nuclear program to Congress, similarly to the CRIEEA, according to specific timelines.
If enacted into law, the proposed review process could signal more Congressional control in the field of terminating, waiving or otherwise reducing sanctions vis-a-vis targets of U.S. sanctions. This could be triggered by a growing concern of Congress to limit the President’s power to alter U.S. sanctions.
Question is whether a Congressional review process will be a permanent feature of U.S. statutory sanctions? The review process was not only triggered by President Trump’s wishes to lift Russia related sanctions, but also by former President Obama’s policies to lift sanctions in the context of Myanmar, Iran, and Cuba.
Whether such Congressional review will contribute to achieving the underlying policy objectives of U.S. sanctions programs, is far from clear. Given the experience which President Obama underwent with the Republican Congress, now its President Trump time to face the music of an intransigent Congress.
Right or wrong, CRIEEA in my opinion has to do more with internal U.S. politics than attempting to solve U.S., and possibly global, foreign security issues. A further politicization of sanctions is a distraction to solve the real issues. Finally, given that former President Obama was able to negotiate the landmark JCPOA under intense opposition of Republicans. Thus, it might still be possible for President Trump to ease U.S. related Russia sanctions…. We await and see.