MOSCOW/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Russia warned it was edging closer to retaliation against Washington after the House of Representatives backed new U.S. sanctions on Moscow, while the European Union said the move might affect its energy security and it stood ready to act too.
The lower house of the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly voted to impose new sanctions on Moscow on Tuesday and to force President Donald Trump to obtain lawmakers’ permission before easing any punitive measures on Russia.
“This is rather sad news from the point of view of Russia-U.S. ties,” said Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman. “We are talking about an extremely unfriendly act.”
He said President Vladimir Putin would decide if and how Moscow would retaliate once the fresh sanctions became law, while Russia’s deputy foreign minister warned the move was taking bilateral relations into uncharted waters, killing off any hope of improving them in the near future.
The sanctions still need to be approved by the Senate and by President Donald Trump himself. But Bob Corker, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Wednesday the measure was likely to become law “very, very soon”.
Trump, who has found his presidency embroiled in a distracting row over his associates’ alleged ties to Moscow and is on the defensive over accusations Moscow helped him win election last year, has said he is keen to try to mend relations with Russia that are languishing at a post-Cold War low.
But most White House watchers believe Trump will reluctantly sign off on the new sanctions, given deep support for them among U.S. lawmakers, including fellow Republicans, and his desire to avoid being accused of being soft on Moscow.
The U.S. sanctions demarche has rattled Russia, which fears that its economy, weakened by a 2014 batch of Western sanctions imposed over its role in the Ukraine crisis, will now find it harder to recover and grow. Foreign investors could be scared off and the original sanctions would remain in place longer.
For its part, the European Union frets the new U.S. move could throw up obstacles to its firms doing business with Russia and threaten the bloc’s energy supply lines.
The Kremlin, which flatly denies interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to the benefit of Trump – a charge that helped propel the House action – says Washington is in the grip of what it calls anti-Russian hysteria.
Moscow has called the new sanctions “an extremely unfriendly step” that would hurt bilateral ties and international trade.
Peskov complained of a blow against international law. But he said Moscow would wait until the sanctions became law before fully analyzing them and deciding how to respond.
The new sanctions legislation risks sinking Trump’s own agenda to improve ties with Moscow altogether.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency that relations were now entering “uncharted territory in a political…