Vladimir Putin Press Conference 2019 Edition

Just before Christmas, Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual news conference which was broadcast on several Russian television and radio stations.  In this press conference, Russia's president outlines what the government of Russia has achieved and what they have not achieved over the past year and why.  In this posting, I want to concentrate on Putin's comments about the United States, in particular, the impeachment proceedings and the growing sanctions burden being placed on Russia by Washington.

Here is the announcement of the news conference from the Kremlin's website:

Let's look at President Putin's response to a key question by Dimitri Simes of Channel One and president and CEO of the Center for National Interest:

"Mr President, two days ago the US Congress passed bills on sanctions against Russia by such an overwhelming majority that it makes it difficult for President Trump to veto the bill.

And, as you probably know, the House of Representatives passed articles of impeachment yesterday. This is the context in which he has to make foreign policy decisions, and more specifically, those in relation to Russia.

In this situation, do you think you – and Russia – have any opportunity to try to maintain or strengthen dialogue with the United States before the end of Trump’s presidency? What can you do to enhance strategic stability, and more specifically, to extend the New START?"

Let's break down President Putin's answer into three parts:

1.) Trump Impeachment:

As for the chances to continue our dialogue until the end of Trump’s presidency, you do sound like it is actually ending. I am not so sure about that. The decision still needs to pass through the Senate, where the Republicans, as far as I know, have the majority, and they are unlikely to want to remove the representative of their party from power for something I, personally, see as far-fetched.

This is just another move in that country’s domestic political campaigning, where one party that lost the election, the Democratic Party, is trying to achieve results they want through other means, such as charging Trump with conspiracy related to Russia. When it turned out there was no conspiracy, there was no longer a sufficient reason to impeach. Now they have invented pressure on Ukraine. I do not know what this is all about. But your Congresspeople certainly know better."

2.) Increased Sanctions on Russia:

"As for the decisions that were made with respect to Russia, they are being made by people who hardly have any responsibility for these decisions. These are not executive authorities, but representative authorities, and their job is to pass laws. They are making such decisions regarding Russia.

This will certainly affect the level of interstate relations. We are aware of their general approach – the United States will work with us in areas where they have an interest and profit, while at the same time restraining Russia with decisions like this. Knowing this, we too will mirror their steps, we will do just that. I am not saying this is a good thing. These are very unfriendly acts in relation to Russia."

Let's look at the bill in question.  S.482 or the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2019 (DASKA) was introduced back in February by Senator Lindsay Graham and was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar on December 18, 2019 after it was passed by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.  Here is the announcement from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations announcing the approval of the bill which passed by a vote of 17 to 5:

Here is a summary of S.482:

This bill contains the following "sense of Congress" which provides us with the gist of the bill:

It is the sense of Congress that—

(1) the President should immediately marshal and support a whole-of-government response by Federal agencies to address the threat posed by the Government of the Russian Federation and to work to prevent interference by that Government and other foreign state actors in United States institutions and democratic processes;

(2) the President should publicly call for the Government of the Russian Federation to return Crimea to the control of the Government of Ukraine, end its support for Russian-led forces violence in eastern Ukraine, end its occupation of and support for Russian-led forces on the territory of Georgia and Moldova, and cease enabling the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria to commit war crimes;

(3) the Russian Federation should abide by its commitments to freedom of navigation in international waters and allow for passage of Ukrainian vessels through the strait;

(4) the President should unequivocally condemn and counter the ongoing interference in United States institutions and democratic processes by the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, his government, and affiliates of his government;

(5) the conclusion of the United States intelligence community and law enforcement agencies and other United States Government officials that the Russian Federation has perpetrated, and continues to perpetrate, such interference, is correct…

(7) Congress reiterates its strong support for the Russia Sanctions Review Act of 2017 (22 U.S.C. 9511), which allows for congressional review of an action to waive the application of sanctions under the provisions of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (Public Law 115–44; 131 Stat. 886) relating to the Russian Federation or a licensing action that significantly alters United States foreign policy with regard to the Russian Federation; and

(8) sanctions imposed with respect to the Russian Federation have been most effective when developed and coordinated in close consultation with the European Union.

Under Title VI, the bill outlines an expansion of Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act as outlined here:

1.) Sanctions related to interference of the Russia Federation with democratic processes and elections.

2.) Sanctions with respect to transactions with certain Russian political figures and oligarchs as quoted here:

"“On and after the date that is 180 days after the date of the enactment of the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2019, the President shall impose the sanctions described in section 224(b) with respect to—

“(1) political figures, oligarchs, and other persons that facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, and persons acting for or on behalf of such political figures, oligarchs, and persons;

“(2) Russian parastatal entities that facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin;

“(3) family members of persons described in paragraph (1) or (2) that derive significant benefits from such illicit and corrupt activities; and

“(4) persons, including financial institutions, that knowingly engage in significant transactions with persons described in paragraph (1), (2), or (3).

3.) Sanctions with respect to transactions with the cyber sector of the Russian Federation.

4.) Sanctions with respect to transactions related to investments in Russian liquified natural gas export facilities.

5.) Prohibition on transactions relative to new sovereign debt of the Russian Federation (i.e. Americans are not allowed to provide financing for or deal with Russia sovereign debt).

6.) Sanctions with respect to Russian financial institutions that support interference in democratic processes or elections.

7.) Sanctions relating to the Actions of the Russian Federation with respect to Ukraine.

8.) Sanctions with respect to transactions related to investments in energy projects supported by Russian state-owned or parastatal entities outside of the Russian Federation.

9.) Sanctions with respect to support for the development of crude oil resources in the Russian Federation.

10.) Sanctions for violations by the Russia Federation of freedom of navigation.

Sanctions will also be expanded for Russian human rights abuses, particularly related to any suspected assassination of an individual by the Government of the Russian Federation within the territory of the United States or a NATO country.

Under DASKA, the United States Department of State and the Director of National Intelligence must report to Congress every 90 days after the bill is enacted a finding and certification as to whether or not the Government of the Russian Federation has knowingly supported operations that will interfere with elections in the United States.

3.) Nuclear Arms Negotiations:

"You have mentioned global security, including the New START, as one of the foundations of our relations. We put forward our proposals, as I have already said, and will repeat: we stand ready until the end of the year to extend the existing New START as is.

They can send it to us by post, or we can sign it and send it to Washington so that their senior officials, including the President, sign it, if they are ready to do so. So far we have not received a reply to any of our proposals. Without the New START there will be nothing left in the world to contain the arms race. I believe that there is nothing good about it."

From Mr. Putin's comments on the relationship between the Russia Federation and the United States during his annual press conference, we have a very clear look at why it will be difficult for diplomatic relations between Washington and Moscow to improve.  Congress, even on the Republican side, seem to be doing whatever they can to ensure that the relationship between Americans and Russians remains cold.

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