Trump balances need to sanction Russia and desire to please allies

The Trump administration will lift sanctions against companies controlled by an ally of Vladimir Putin. The Putin ally is Oleg Deripaska, a metals oligarch who apparently has ties to Paul Manafort.

Does Trump’s decision mean that he’s doing Putin’s bidding? No. The sanctions are being lifted at the request of our European allies, who are concerned that the action against Deripaska’s companies has created havoc in the global market for aluminum.

The decision to lift sanctions thus lies at the intersection of two anti-Trump themes: (1) that Trump is a tool of Putin and (2) that Trump is insufficiently attentive to the concerns of our European allies. The first theme is ridiculous; the second is overblown.

In this case, the administration has tried to balance its desire to sanction a Putin ally and its desire to accommodate our allies. It will lift sanctions on Deripaska’s companies, but not on the oligarch himself. And Deripaska has agreed to reduce his ownership in the companies to less than 50 percent.

Congress has a 30-day period in which to block any relaxation of Treasury Department sanctions related to Russia. The House voted overwhelmingly to block this relaxation. 136 Republicans, including Minority Leader McCarthy, joined with the Democrats. Only 53 members opposed the blocking measure.

However, the Senate narrowly rejected the attempt to block the administration, which required 60 votes. The vote was 57-42. The dissenting Republicans were: John Boozman, Susan Collins, Tom Cotton, Steve Daines, Cory Gardner, Josh Hawley, John Kennedy, Martha McSally, Jerry Moran, Marco Rubio, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

I have no view as to which side has the better of the debate over whether to block the administration’s relaxation of sanctions. I think it’s clear, however, that the administration’s position is a reasonable one, and that it does not constitute a bad faith capitulation to Moscow.

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