MOSCOW — Senior Russian officials and lawmakers on Wednesday attacked new financial sanctions passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, saying they ended hopes for the detente between Moscow and Washington that President Trump promised during his campaign.
The new sanctions, which passed the House on Tuesday evening by an overwhelming vote of 419 to 3, targeted key Russian officials in retaliation for Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. Iran and North Korea were also targets.
The sanctions’ passage cemented views in Moscow that Trump’s election has provided few deliverables for the Kremlin and that the American president is being held hostage by a foreign policy establishment that seeks conflict with Russia.
The sanctions also may prove to be an inflection point. Even for a relationship characterized by saber-rattling and dire predictions, the Russian response was notably stark.
“Washington is a source of danger,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, whose portfolio includes relations with the United States, told a state news agency in an interview. Later, he added, “Essentially, the possibilities for normalization of relations in the foreseeable future are closed.”
Others said that Russia should finally expel several dozen U.S. diplomats, ending a hopeful period in Moscow that Trump would reverse President Barack Obama’s decision late last year to expel 35 diplomats and seize two diplomatic compounds that Obama said were used to gather signals intelligence.
“In this case I am a supporter of symmetrical responses,” said Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament. “I believe their time has come.”
The sanctions bill and the deportations of diplomats were punishment for Russia’s alleged intervention in the 2016 U.S. elections. Russian officials say they believe those accusations are just a pretext to undermine the Trump administration.
The sanctions bill passed by the House would force Trump to seek congressional approval to roll back other sanctions against Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. Members of the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, resisted the congressional push, but the overwhelming majority in the House suggests that a presidential veto would probably be overridden. The sanctions bill still would require approval by the Senate.
While Trump has shown that he wants a closer relationship with Russia and President Vladimir Putin, Russian officials are now convinced of the limits of his power and ability to control his own party.
The new sanctions came just weeks after Trump and Putin met for the first time during the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, speaking for more than two hours behind closed doors and then once more after a dinner, at a meeting attended only by Trump, Putin and Putin’s interpreter. The two discussed, among other topics, Moscow’s ban on adoptions of Russian children by American parents. The Russian ban was a response to U.S. sanctions.
Kosachev had said he was “hopeful” after that meeting for a breakthrough in relations.
After Tuesday’s vote in the House, he struck a different chord.
“Hope dies last but it is dying,” Kosachev wrote on Facebook, where he regularly posts his thoughts on international politics. “The further degradation of the bilateral cooperation is inevitable, even though it seems like it couldn’t get any worse.”
The Russian government’s frustration has reached fever peak. The main adjectives for Russian views on the United States are “disgust, disdain and contempt,” said Sergey Karaganov, a foreign-policy analyst who works at the Higher School of Economics. He said that policy thinkers have discussed how the United States’ internal political divisions and “wild emotions” are turning the country into a “failed state.”
There have been some upsides for Russia to the Trump presidency. The focus on damaging internal politics in Washington, he said, has given Russia breathing room in Ukraine but also in Syria, where cooperation with Russia has become central to the Trump administration’s plan to fight the Islamic State.
Also, Karaganov said, the United States’ loss of prestige is Russia’s gain.
“Because of your internal affairs, you have made Russia and Putin supreme. Who is ruling the world? You say it’s Russians. In terms of PR, it’s unbelievably good,” he said. “But seriously, on the real issues, security, the situation in the world, we are very much concerned.”