World

Sanctions show Trump's total weakness: Russia PM

US President reluctantly signs legislation against Moscow

WASHINGTON US President Donald Trump reluctantly signed off on new sanctions against Russia on Wednesday, bowing to domestic pressure and putting efforts to improve ties with the Kremlin in peril.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the sanctions amounted to "full-fledged economic war on Russia" and demonstrated Mr Trump's "total weakness... in the most humiliating way".

"It ends hopes for improving our relations with the new US administration," Mr Medvedev declared on his Facebook page.

Mr Trump signed the legislation behind closed doors, after failed White House efforts to scupper or water down the Bill.

Mr Trump's reluctance was on full display in an angry signing statement, in which he called the legislation "significantly flawed".

"In its haste to pass this legislation, Congress included a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions," he said, including curbs on his ability to "negotiate" with Russia.

"I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress," Mr Trump added.

The legislation - which also includes measures against North Korea and Iran - targets the Russian energy sector, giving Washington the ability to sanction companies involved in developing Russian pipelines and placing curbs on some Russian weapons exporters.

It also notably constrains Mr Trump's ability to waive the penalties, a statement of mistrust from the Republican-controlled Congress.

"The framers of our Constitution made the Congress and the President coequal branches of government. This Bill has already proven the wisdom of that choice," Senator John McCain said in a biting statement.

"I hope the President will be as vocal about Russia's aggressive behaviour as he was about his concerns with this legislation."

The sanctions seek to penalise the Kremlin for allegedly meddling in last year's US presidential election and Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Mr Trump said he would "honour" some of the Bill's provisions, but stopped short of saying it would be fully implemented.

"I am signing this Bill for the sake of national unity. It represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States," Mr Trump said.

He received the legislation last Friday but waited until Wednesday to sign it. The nearly week-long delay in signing had raised speculation that he might veto or try to shelve the sanctions, which were approved in a 98-2 Senate vote.

By signing it, he avoided the humiliating prospect of Congress overriding his veto.

Expecting the signature, Moscow pre-emptively ordered Washington to reduce its diplomatic presence in Russia.

The Kremlin said Mr Trump's signing of the sanctions "doesn't change anything" - a less adversarial statement than those issued by Mr Medvedev and the foreign ministry, which called the sanctions "dangerous" and "short-sighted".

"We have already shown that we are not going to leave hostile acts unanswered...and we obviously reserve the right to take retaliatory measures," it said.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he will meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov over the weekend, but warned that US-Russia ties could still get worse.

Mr Tillerson said the sanctions made attempts to thaw ties "more difficult". - AFP

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