On Thursday, June 15, 2017, by a vote of 98-2, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that would potentially impose additional sanctions against Russia and give Congress the power to delay and/or prevent any action by President Trump to lift or relax sanctions against Russia. Tentatively titled the “Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia Act of 2017” (“CRIEEA”), the bill must now proceed to the U.S. House of Representatives for further deliberation and approval.

If CRIEEA becomes legislation it will potentially require the President to impose several new sanctions against Russia. Most notably:

  • Additional sanctions against persons who assist the Russian Federation in undermining cybersecurity against persons, democratic institutions or governments or persons who engage in significant transactions with the Russian government’s defense or intelligence sectors;
  • Sanctions against persons making significant investment in Russian crude oil projects, financial institutions supporting sanctioned activities by the Russian government and persons supporting human rights abuses carried out by the Russian government (the President currently has the discretion, but not the obligation, to impose these types of sanctions);
  • Sanctions against persons investing in the Russian government’s privatization of state-owned assets in a manner which unjustly benefits Russian government officials or their close associates or family members; and
  • Sanctions against persons who support the Syrian government in developing or acquiring ballistic or cruise missiles or other forms of chemical, biological or nuclear weaponry.

CRIEEA would also effectively codify into law various Executive Orders issued by the Obama administration in order to impose sanctions against various Russian government officials and business entities involved in Russia’s occupation of the Crimea region of Ukraine, certain sectors of the Russian economy (such as Russia’s financial and oil production sectors) and government officials, agencies and other parties involved with the Russian government’s malicious cyber activities. CRIEEA also contains a separate piece of proposed legislation called the “Russian Sanctions Review Act of 2017” (“RSRA”) which would require the President to notify Congress before terminating or relaxing existing Russian sanctions. The RSRA would then give Congress 30 days (or 60 days if the notification occurred while Congress was in recess) to approve or disapprove and potentially prevent any such action.

President Trump has previously suggested that he might lift the current sanctions against Russia in order to facilitate a better dialogue between the U.S. and Russia. If enacted, the CRIEEA and RSRA would prevent him from doing so. The Senate conducted this vote while four congressional committees are investigating Russia’s election interference and potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Republican senators argued that the CRIEEA is also intended to punish Russia for its support of the al-Assad regime in Syria.

The Senate added CRIEEA as an amendment to a pre-existing bill which proposed additional sanctions on Iran in response to Iran’s recent Iranian ballistic missile tests. The Senate approved these potential Iranian sanctions together with the CRIEEA. If approved by the House, the Iranian portion of the bill will impose sanctions against individuals who have provided “material contributions” to the Iranian state sponsorship of terrorism, including the supply of technical or financial aid.