On Wednesday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly 97-2 in favor of a bill imposing new restrictive measures against Russia, targeting the country's defense, intelligence, banking, mining, shipping and railway sectors, and restricting debt dealings with Russian banks and energy companies to 14 days and 30 days, respectively. The bill also includes a provision which would prevent the president from weakening or abolishing the sanctions without Congressional approval.
Commenting on the Senate's push for tougher sanctions in his annual 'Direct Line' call-in session on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he believed the new restrictions looked like a sign of domestic political struggle inside the US.
"We know that a new bill appeared in the US Senate about tightening sanctions [against Russia]. By the way, why? Nothing extraordinary is happening at the moment. Why did [they] start talking about these sanctions again, out of the blue?…This is a manifestation of the ongoing internal political struggle in the United States, nevertheless, it is happening I think out of the blue," the president said.
Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told lawmakers that his department's task is to try to "stabilize" the Russian-US relationship, which he characterized as being "at an all time low." Tillerson warned senators that new sanctions against Moscow might jeopardize Russia's willingness to engage in dialogue with the US, including on reaching a political resolution to the Syrian crisis.
Asked to comment on the Senate vote, Russian political scientist Alexei Zudin told Radio Sputnik that the push for new restrictions was an obvious ploy to try to tie President Trump's hands.
"First of all, there's no point expecting [new sanctions] to have any serious impact on the Russian economy," the observer said. "This is certainly an unfriendly and a negative step, but I would not assess it in terms of its effect on the Russian economy."
"In essence, the Senate is trying to preempt Trump – to tie his hands as soon as possible, before his possible meeting with Vladimir Putin," the analyst concluded.
Putin and Trump may meet in July during the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Last week, a White House spokesperson told Sputnik that the administration has yet to decide on whether President Trump will meet one-on-one with President Putin on the sidelines of the summit.