MOSCOW — The already shaken Russian-American relations are about to face new turmoil as Nov. 6 midterm elections to the U.S. Congress loom.
During Donald Trump's presidency, the legislative branch has taken the lead in defining American policy towards Russia. With Congress assuming many of the powers traditionally belonging to the executive branch, normalization of relations between the two countries has been hindered. Sanctions are fixed by laws. They represent an instrument of pressure not so much on Russia as on Trump.
The topic of the Russian interference is one of the main ones in the current election season, including inside the Republican Party. At the beginning of August, exactly one year after the entrance into force of the "Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act," senators from both parties submitted a new 2018 bill: "Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act."
The core of this initiative is the restriction of financial operations with the Russian sovereign debt. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a co-sponsor of the bill, says the intention is to "impose crushing sanctions and other measures against Putin's Russia until he ceases and desists meddling in the U.S. electoral process, halts cyber-attacks on U.S. infrastructure, removes Russia from Ukraine, and ceases efforts to create chaos in Syria."
Today there are almost no influential figures in Congress who consistently promote the dialogue between the two countries. Seven Senate and House members from the Republican Party who visited Russia in July were severely criticized by their colleagues from Capitol Hill. Only Republican senator Rand Paul and the eccentric Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher openly support dialogue with Russia.
A united symbol of evil.
It should not be expected that the new House of Representatives and the renewed Senate will assume a radically different stance towards Russia. There are no pro-Russian groups of voters in the United States today. At best, it could be said that there is a segment who are not concerned about the policy towards Russia. Mobilized diasporas from Central and Eastern Europe used to stand out among the supporters of a hard line. Today these populations are much more numerous in the anti-Trump camp, for whom the current American president and the Kremlin have merged into a united symbol of absolute evil.
The Republicans' holding on to majorities in both chambers of Congress would be a bit more preferable for Russia. In this case the initiatives of the executive authority related to Russia wouldn't be blocked automatically. But in any case, Moscow should not be placing political bets. Any attempts of lobbying activities aimed at interacting with American legislators would be suicidal nowadays, although many other countries actively and openly work in this very way.
On the whole, the next three months before the November elections will be a tough time for Russo-American relations. Next year, when elections have already been over and the special prosecutor Robert Mueller has finished his work, it will be possible to return to the issue of normalization. Until then it is necessary to push the pause button on bilateral relations.
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