Donald Trump blamed Congress for worsening relations with Russia, which accused the U.S. president of caving in to legislators by signing a law that could keep sanctions in place for years.
“Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low,” Trump wrote Thursday on Twitter. “You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!” he said, referring to the failed effort to overhaul health care.
The Trump tweet drew a quick response from Senator Tom Cotton, who appeared with Trump just a day earlier to promote immigration legislation that the Arkansas Republican is co-sponsoring. He said the blame for deteriorating U.S.-Russia relationship falls on Russian President Vladimir Putin, a sentiment echoed by other Republican lawmakers.
“He’s the one that has invaded countries who are our partners, he’s the one that’s provided missiles that have shot civilian aircraft out of the sky, he’s the one that’s meddled in western democracies to include our own, when Russian intelligence services hacked into those emails and released them,” Cotton said on MSNBC.
The exchange underscored the increasing strain between Trump and his own party in Congress amid multiple, expanding congressional and FBI investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and whether anyone in the Trump campaign colluded in the effort. The sanctions legislation gives lawmakers the power to block the president from lifting them and was passed in the House and Senate by overwhelming, veto-proof margins.
While Putin has been silent since Trump signed the sanctions law, which strengthens punitive measures imposed over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and its election interference, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday criticized the sanctions and belittled the U.S. president.
“The Trump administration has shown its total weakness by handing over executive power to Congress in the most humiliating way,” Medvedev said in messages posted on Facebook and Twitter. “The US establishment fully outwitted Trump.”
He called the sanctions “a declaration of a full-fledged economic war on Russia.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to discuss Medvedev’s criticism of the U.S. president during a conference call with reporters.
Passage of the legislation ended lingering Russian hopes that the billionaire-turned-politician could deliver on his campaign pledge to work with Putin and turn a page in bilateral relations.
“The hopes have already ended even if there is a residual feeling that Trump, if he was allowed to, would behave differently,” Fyodor Lukyanov, who heads the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, a Kremlin advisory group, said by phone.
Russia, which has already retaliated by ordering the U.S. to slash staff at its diplomatic mission by almost two-thirds, could take further counter measures, according to the Foreign Ministry.
Russia will try to maintain some cooperation with the U.S. in areas of mutual interest such as Syria, where the two powers agreed last month on a cease-fire near the border with Israel and Jordan, said Andrei Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, a Moscow-based research group set up by the Kremlin.
Though the law doesn’t dramatically expand sanctions, the power it gives Congress to block presidential moves to ease them means they’re likely to remain in place for years. The ruble, which has fallen nearly 3 percent against the dollar this week as the bill awaited Trump’s signature, was little changed at 60.4551 to the greenback at 3:02 p.m. in Moscow.
While the immediate economic impact is seen as limited, restrictions on Russian access to western financing and technology could put a cap on the country’s already lackluster growth prospects as it emerges from the longest recession this century.
Putin said on state television on Sunday that Russia would refrain from taking further retaliatory steps over the sanctions for now, though “if the time comes, we can consider other options for responding.”
That doesn’t mean the president won’t seek to strike at America in ways that are less directly confrontational, lawmakers said.
“Sometimes you don’t need to announce sanctions, but you can act in such a way that everyone understands without the need for grandstanding,” said Andrei Klimov, deputy head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament.
Russia may penalize U.S. companies working in the country and seek to counter American interests in other parts of the world, according to Oleg Morozov, who also sits on the foreign affairs committee. Even so, the Russian response will be “symbolic” and the Kremlin will try not to burn all its bridges with Trump, he said.
Ultimately, “despite all the euphoria in Moscow after Trump’s election and commentary about Putin as a great strategist, the end result is a more aggressive U.S. sanctions regime doing more damage to Russia,” said Timothy Ash, a senior strategist at Bluebay Asset Management in London.
In addition to Cotton, other Republican U.S. senators dismissed Trump’s tweet.
“We have bad relations with Russia because they’ve done bad things,” said Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, one of many Republicans dismissing Trump’s tweeted charge.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, who helped craft the sanctions legislation, blamed Putin for deteriorating relations.
“It’s Putin’s actions that have created the need for us to take the steps that we have, no question,” said Corker of Tennessee. “So I don’t know what else can be said.”
Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, who said he’d been unaware of the tweet, smiled. “Huh. Well. It is what it is,” he said. Flake, later in the day, said it’s “Putin’s fault.”