US President-elect Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS
US President-elect Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS

Washington — President Donald Trump chafed on Thursday over the new dive in US relations with Russia, widening a rift with his own Republican Party as he blamed Congress for causing the tensions with new sanctions.

Far removed from his election campaign promises to improve relations with Vladimir Putin and his praise of the Russian president, Trump found himself the target of Kremlin scorn after he reluctantly signed the sanctions against Moscow into law on Wednesday.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday evening the measure showed the Trump administration was utterly powerless.

The sanctions amounted to a full-scale trade war and the hope of improved relations with the new administration in Washington was over, Medvedev said on Facebook.

Even while campaigning for the White House, Trump’s stated desire for improved ties with Moscow raised eyebrows among his fellow Republicans, as well as Democrats.

Prospects for a rapprochement largely evaporated once he took office in January over US intelligence agencies’ findings that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election campaign.

Congress passed the sanctions to punish Russia for the election interference and the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, and included provisions for legislators to stop Trump from easing the penalties.

Trump, who has publicly expressed frustration with Congress, lashed out again  on Thursday.

"Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low," he tweeted.

"You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!" he added, referring to a bitter setback when Republicans failed to push healthcare legislation through the Senate.

Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, and Democrats are strongly divided on many issues but the sanctions measure drew wide support from both parties.

Thank Putin

Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate armed services committee and a leading voice on foreign policy in the party, was among the Republicans pushing back hard at Trump’s tweet. "Our relationship w/ Russia is at dangerous low. You can thank Putin for attacking our democracy, invading neighbors & threatening our allies," McCain said on Twitter.

Trump had little choice but to sign the legislation because Congress clearly had the votes to override his potential veto.

He strongly criticised the bill as "significantly flawed" and complained it infringed on his presidential powers to shape foreign policy.

Russia has loomed large over the Trump presidency. US congressional panels and a special counsel are investigating the election interference in probes that are also looking into any potential role by Trump aides.

Moscow denies meddling and Trump, regularly denouncing the investigations as a political witch-hunt, denies any collusion by his campaign.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton agreed in an MSNBC interview that US-Russian ties were "at a very low point" but rejected the president’s blame.

"Ultimately, the responsibility falls primarily on Vladimir Putin," Cotton said, pointing to Russian actions over Ukraine, arms control treaty violations and alleged meddling in various western nations.

Vice-President Mike Pence presented a tough stance against Russia during a tour of Baltic states this week.

Pence assured the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that they would have US support in the event of Russian aggression.


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