Trump: Russian Actions in Ukraine Pose ‘Extraordinary Threat’ to U.S. National Security

By Dimitri Simes | March 12, 2019 | 1:17pm EDT
Russian President Vladimir
Putin and President Donald
Trump.  (Getty Images)

( -- On March 4, President Donald Trump extended an executive order instituted by President Barack Obama in 2014 that declares a national emergency and imposes sanctions on Russian officials involved in the annexation of Crimea.

In a statement that day, Trump asserted that the current sanctions regime remains necessary because Russian actions in Ukraine “continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

The sanctions were set to expire on March 6. Following Trump’s extension, they will remain in place for another year.

Flag of the Russian Federation.  (Getty Images)

The sanctions regime came into being in 2014 after President Obama declared a national emergency in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea. He relied on the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Sanctions instituted under the Act must be renewed annually.

Peter Harrell, adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counter-Threat Finance and Sanctions, told that the goals of the original sanctions were “to deter Russia from further escalating its intervention in Ukraine” and “to pressure Russia into implementing the so-called Minsk ceasefire agreement, a proposed peace agreement for Russia and Ukraine to resolve the conflict.”

Although initially skeptical of Obama’s Russia sanctions, Trump did not have much choice on extending them following 2017 legislation that greatly limited his flexibility on the issue.

Early in his administration, Trump considered lifting these sanctions as part of a prospective deal with Russia. However, a group of State Department staffers who helped design the sanctions under the Obama administration strongly opposed the move.

According to a report from Yahoo News, they reached out to Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) in an effort to block Trump from proceeding.

Shortly thereafter, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that mandated the president to receive congressional approval before lifting Russia sanctions instituted by the Obama administration. The legislation passed with overwhelming majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the summer of 2017.

President Donald Trump faces Russian President Vladimir Putin.  (Getty Images)

However, Trump’s decision was by no means merely out of necessity – it is part of his administration’s increasingly tougher stance towards Russian actions in Ukraine.

George Beebe, former director of the CIA’s Russia analysis and a former special advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney, told, “The Trump administration almost certainly realizes that there is no basis for lifting or easing Crimea-related sanctions absent some significant change in Russia's behavior related to Ukraine.”

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