U.S. President Donald Trump imposed new sanctions Wednesday on Russia, signing legislation with penalties aimed at Moscow for its interference in last year's U.S. election designed to help him win the White House.
Trump had objected to the measure because it gives Congress a 30-day review period during which it could block Trump from easing the sanctions. But both houses of Congress had voted overwhelmingly for the legislation, leaving Trump with the risk of having his veto overridden if he had refused to sign the bill.
About the law
The law sets new restrictions on U.S. companies working with Russian gas and oil companies and codifies sanctions imposed by former President Barack Obama for Russia's election meddling, including the closure of two compounds in the U.S. used by Russian diplomats. Moscow retaliated this week, ordering the U.S. to cut 755 diplomats and staff workers at its embassy and consulates in Russia.
Trump has been largely dismissive of numerous investigations in Washington into the Russian meddling and accusations that his aides colluded with Moscow, calling them a "witch hunt" and an excuse by Democrats to explain his upset win over his Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton. Numerous congressional investigations are underway, as is a criminal probe being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Pence reassures US allies in Balkans
Trump's approval of the sanctions came as Vice President Mike Pence told Western Balkan leaders that their future "is in the West," calling Russia "an unpredictable country" that has worked to destabilize the region.
Pence, in a show of support for U.S. allies alarmed by Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and its backing of the separatists' rebellion in eastern Ukraine, said the United States wants "a constructive relationship" with Moscow. But he said the U.S. will only lift sanctions against Russia when it reverses course and ends its "destabilizing activities."
Speaking in Montenegro's capital of Podgorica, Pence said, "Russia continues to seek to redraw international borders by force and here in the western Balkans, Russia has worked to destabilize the region, undermine your democracies and divide you from each other and from the rest of Europe."
Tiny Montenegro, along the eastern Adriatic shoreline, joined NATO in June, but had been a traditional Moscow ally in the Balkans. Pence, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Montenegro in 100 years, said Russia sought to prevent it from joining the West's military alliance that was formed after World War II as a bulwark against Russian aggression.
"We truly believe the future of the Western Balkans is in the West," Pence said.
"Russia’s intentions were laid bare over the past year," Pence said, "when Moscow-backed agents sought to disrupt Montenegro’s elections, attack your parliament and even attempt to assassinate your prime minister to dissuade the Montenegrin people from entering our NATO alliance." Moscow has denied interference in Montenegro.
Montenegro Prime Minister Dusko Markovic said Pence's visit showed that NATO states are treated equally no matter their size.
"We have irrevocably tied our destiny to the values promoted and defended by this alliance," Markovic said.
While Pence cited Russian actions in Europe, he did not mention the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign to help Trump win the U.S. presidency.