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Menendez Demands Trump Admin Fully Implement Bipartisan Russia Sanctions

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, submitted the following statement for the Senate record urging the Trump Administration to hold Russia accountable by fully implementing the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). It has been eleven months since Congress overwhelmingly passed CAATSA’s wide-ranging mandatory sanctions measures to hold Russia accountable for their destabilizing activities against our country and nations around the world.

“Today I would like to raise concerns about efforts to erode the effectiveness of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA. This law requires the administration to impose a host of costs on the Government of the Russian Federation for its interference in democratic processes around the world, its support for the brutal regime of Bashar Al-Assad, and its active role in destabilizing Ukraine. Ninety-eight Senators voted in favor of this legislation and should expect the administration to fully implement it.

Of particular concern to me today is Section 231, which requires the imposition of sanctions on those who conduct significant transactions with specific entities in the Russian defense and intelligence sectors. We targeted those sectors because our intelligence community deemed them responsible for the attack on our election in 2016. The law is meant to cut financial income for these sectors.

Using the model implemented in the CISADA sanctions regime on Iran, section 231 includes a provision to delay sanctions if the individual in question can show that they are substantially reducing significant transactions from these Russian entities. This model was extremely effective in diminishing the volume of energy products that Iran was able to sell to the rest of the world and ultimately helped to drive them to the negotiating table. This model allows for some flexibility while maintaining appropriate pressure to wind down business with these sectors in Russia. It can work if we allow it to.

The State Department reports that the law is actually already having an impact—billions of dollars’ worth of deals around the world with the Russian defense sector have been turned off due to leverage created by this law. That means billions of dollars less for Russia to interfere in elections and sow discord in democratic societies. Billions of dollars less to support war crimes in Syria. Billions of dollars less to kill Ukrainians and violate the sovereignty of that country. If the administration fully allows the law to work, the Russian government will have less money for all of these things.

The leverage CAATSA provides is critically necessary. In Turkey, this leverage is vital in our efforts to ensure that the Erdogan government does not purchase the Russian S400 air defense system. Such a purchase would be a win for Putin in a strategically important part of the world and could pose a security and intelligence threat to U.S. and NATO personnel and equipment already in the country. CAATSA gives our negotiators an important tool which we hope can leverage the right policy decisions in Ankara.

Over the course of the debate on the NDAA, voices in the administration want to weaken Section 231 and have called for blanket waiver authority. I opposed these efforts, not because I want sanctions on our close friends who continue to do business with Russian defense sector, but because such a move would gut CAATSA and render this key provision of the law toothless. We need to remain true to the principles laid out in in the law. Either we want to increasingly maintain pressure on the Russian defense and intelligence sectors… or we don’t. Either we want to send a strong message to the Kremlin that interfering in our elections and those of our allies is unacceptable …or we don’t. Either we want to defend our democracy …or we don’t.

No one wants to impose sanctions on our close friends, especially as defense relationships with those countries are improving. We should continue building on the positive momentum around our defense cooperation with several countries around the world. And it is precisely for this reason that countries should begin to make a choice. Either they want a strong and growing defense partnership with the United States…or they don’t. Either they want access to the best defense technology that the US has to offer…or they don’t. Either they believe that standing up for democratic institutions matters…or they don’t.

The choice seems pretty clear to me.

We built flexibility into CAATSA that allows them to avoid sanctions if they can show a substantial reduction in purchases over time.

I would also stress to my colleagues here—CAATSA is the only significant bipartisan piece of foreign policy legislation passed since Donald Trump came into office. We should be proud of this brief moment of bipartisanship in support of our collective national security. But our responsibility did not end with one vote—stringent oversight matters now more than ever. Will you stand by the law or buckle to attempts by the administration to fundamentally weaken it?

A central challenge in the administration’s implementation of Section 231 is its refusal to make formal determinations that individuals have in fact conducted significant transactions with specific Russian Federation entities. Without such a baseline of information, it is impossible to determine whether individuals are substantially reducing significant transactions with the Russian defense and intelligence sectors. I sought to remedy this shortcoming with an amendment to the NDAA which would require the administration to regularly report on whether such transactions have taken place. While the amendment did not make it into the bill, I will continue to urge such reporting moving forward and more transparency from the administration on how this law is being implemented.

I want to acknowledge the work of those at the State and Treasury Departments, especially the Office of Foreign Assets Control, who have done the hard work of preparing sanctions packages related to the executive orders and the Magnitsky laws. More than 200 designations of Russian entities and individuals have been made, constraining their ability to carry out a Kremlin agenda of aggression around the globe.  I want to acknowledge the leadership of people like Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell in working to advance a realistic policy with respect to President Putin’s actions and intentions. There is no denying that our government is populated with career civil servants and some political appointees who are clear-eyed about the threat posed by the Kremlin and are working every day to counter it. I just wish that our president had their back.

Time and again, this President insists on making statements that serve to hinder the good work done by our diplomats and civil servants.

He insisted that Russia rejoin the G7 though Moscow has done nothing to remedy the reason for its suspension in the first place—the invasion of Ukraine and illegal occupation of Crimea.

He insisted that most people in Crimea speak Russian so therefore want to be part of Russia. This, M. President, is wrong and an insult to thousands of dead Ukrainians and their families.

He insisted on trashing our oldest allies while seeking to curry favor with Putin.

Given the scale and nature of this threat, we need a fully aligned policy apparatus where the president and bureaucracy are on the same page. With this president, I’m not sure that can be achieved. But M. President, it is incumbent upon us, in this oversight body, Republican and Democrat, to indeed insist that the president end his irrational affection for the Kremlin. He must finally marshal all the resources of our government to address this threat to our security and to our democracy.

It starts with the NATO summit next month. The president must be rock solid in his commitment to Article Five of the alliance charter. He should be firm about allies meeting their commitment of 2% of GDP to defense, but not allow that issue to crowd out a real conversation and coordination on addressing the threat posed by Russia. Our allies take this threat seriously and want a president, in the tradition of Kennedy and Reagan, who will show leadership and clarity of purpose at a NATO summit. The president should use the summit to build common cause on sanctions with those members of the EU present at the meeting. Specifically, he should work with Europe to impose cyber sanctions on Russian actors who threaten our democracies.

In closing, despite some progress in designating some key Russian actors, I remain concerned that seven mandatory provisions of CAATSA have not been implemented. This is simply unacceptable. Secretary Pompeo committed during a recent Foreign Relations Committee hearing that he would pursue the mandatory provisions under the law.  And to make sure everyone’s on the same page, let me run through the mandatory provisions that have not been implemented under CAATSA authorities:

Section 225: Mandatory sanctions related to special Russian crude oil products

Section 226: Mandatory sanctions with respect to Russian and other foreign financial institutions

Section 227: Mandatory imposition of sanctions with respect to significant corruption in the Russian Federation

Section 228: Mandatory sanctions with respect to certain transactions with foreign sanctions evaders and serious human rights abusers in the Russian Federation

Section 231: Mandatory sanctions with respect to persons engaging in transactions with the intelligence and defense sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation

Section 233: Mandatory sanctions with respect to investment in or facilitation of privatization of state-owned assets by the Russian Federation

Section 234: Mandatory sanctions with respect to the transfer of arms and related materiel to Syria

I again implore the administration to follow the law and impose these sanctions with urgency.

Let us recapture the bipartisan spirit we found to collectively confront threats to our national security when this body passed CAATSA nearly a year ago. I urge my colleagues to again join together and now ensure implementation of this law. I urge my colleagues to stand firm in support of our democracy against all forms of aggression, especially from Moscow. There is still time before the 2018 election to make crystal clear to the Kremlin that their days of unfettered cyber hacking, bots, trolls, and lies are over.”