Trump blames Congress for Russia relations 'at an all-time low'
President once again critical of Republican lawmakers he'll need help further his agenda
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday Washington's relationship with Russia is at an "an all-time and very dangerous low," and blamed Congress for the situation, a day after he signed into law sanctions against Moscow.
The accusation came on the same day Russia announced its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov would meet in the coming days with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The counterparts will talk on the sidelines of an ASEAN regional security summit scheduled for Aug. 6-8 in Manila.
Congress overwhelmingly approved the sanctions last week, leaving Trump with little choice but to sign the legislation although he has long expressed a desire for better ties with Russia. He signed the bill on Wednesday but strongly criticized it.
He complained the measure, which allows Congress to stop him from easing sanctions on Russia, infringed on his presidential powers to shape foreign policy.
"Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low," Trump said in a Twitter post on Thursday. "You can thank Congress, the same people that can't even give us HCare!" he added, referring to a bitter setback last month when his fellow Republicans, who control both chambers in Congress, failed to push healthcare legislation through the Senate.
Trump's desire for better ties with Moscow has been hamstrung by the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies that President Vladimir Putin's government meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign. U.S. congressional panels and a special counsel are investigating. Moscow denies any meddling and Trump denies any collusion by his campaign.
Congress passed the new sanctions to punish Russia over the election interference and the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in 2014.
Pence tries to reassure Baltic states
Republican U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, who stood beside Trump on Wednesday for an immigration plan announcement they both are pushing, was asked about Trump's tweet in an MSNBC interview. He agreed U.S.-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.
"We need to confront, put pressure on Vladimir Putin at every point."
Our relationship w/ Russia is at dangerous low. You can thank Putin for attacking our democracy, invading neighbors & threatening our allies—@SenJohnMcCain
Despite Trump's public misgivings about the sanctions, 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 — all once part of the Soviet Union — that they would have U.S. support in the event of Russian aggression.
Russia will hold large-scale military maneuvers in nearby Belarus this month.
Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate was asked for his reaction to Trump's tweet. He told MSNBC: "I can just tell you we saw real bipartisanship on Capitol Hill when it came to these sanctions. Democrats and Republicans agreed we had to tell North Korea, Iran and Russia 'enough was enough.'"
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev denounced the sanctions on Wednesday and the Kremlin reiterated this on Thursday.
"Nobody should doubt that Russia will protect and defend its interests," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on a conference call with reporters. "We in general believe that this policy of sanctions is short-sighted, unlawful and hopeless."
Even before Trump signed the bill, Putin on Sunday ordered the United States to cut about 60 per cent of its diplomatic staff in Russia by Sept. 1 and took away a summer house used by U.S. Embassy staff.