Bid to keep US sanctions on Russia’s Rusal fails in Senate

The US Senate has narrowly upheld a Treasury Department decision to lift sanctions from three companies connected to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, shown in this file photo. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
Updated 17 January 2019
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Bid to keep US sanctions on Russia’s Rusal fails in Senate

  • The vote fell short of the 60 votes necessary to advance to a final passage vote
  • A similar measure will be brought up for a vote in the House of Representatives

WASHINGTON: In a victory for President Donald Trump, the US Senate on Wednesday rejected legislation to keep sanctions on companies linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, including aluminum firm Rusal.
Senators voted 57-42 to end debate on the measure, as 11 of Trump’s fellow Republicans broke from party leaders to join Democrats in favor of the resolution, amid questions about Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
That result fell short of the 60 votes necessary to advance to a final passage vote in the 100-member Senate, where Republicans have a 53-47 seat majority.
A similar measure will be brought up for a vote on Thursday in the House of Representatives, where Democrats control a majority of seats. But its long-term fate was uncertain. To keep the administration from lifting the sanctions, the measure must pass both the House and Senate and muster the two-thirds majority needed in both chambers to override an expected Trump veto.
Many members of Congress have been questioning the US Treasury Department’s decision in December to ease sanctions imposed in April on the core businesses of Deripaska — Rusal, its parent, En+, and power firm EuroSibEnergo — watering down the toughest penalties imposed on Russian entities since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Deripaska, an influential businessman close to Putin, himself would remain subject to US sanctions.
The Trump administration pushed Republican lawmakers not to support the resolution introduced by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, which would have prevented the administration from lifting the sanctions.
“Forty-two Republican senators chose today to stand with Vladimir Putin,” Schumer said in a statement. “I’m extremely disappointed that many of my Republican colleagues are too afraid of breaking with President Trump to stand up to a thug.”
Senate aides said Treasury officials had approached senators and staff repeatedly in recent days to argue that it was appropriate to lift the sanctions because Deripaska had agreed to cut back his controlling stakes.

Concern over ripple effects
They said the sanctions on Deripaska would punish him, but lifting restrictions on the companies would avoid potential effects on companies in the United States, Europe and elsewhere.
Rusal is the world’s largest aluminum producer outside China. The sanctions on the company spurred demand for Chinese metal. China’s aluminum exports jumped to a record high in 2018.
The Russian companies, along with some European governments, also lobbied for months for the sanctions to be eased.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney welcomed the outcome of the Senate vote, saying he hoped it would pave the way for sanctions to be lifted that affect the Irish company Aughinish Alumina, a Rusal unit.
“We respect different views in US on sanctions, but our focus has always been on protecting jobs and livelihoods in Ireland and EU,” he said on Twitter.
Democrats had been optimistic they would get 60 votes on Wednesday, after 11 Republicans made the unusual break from Trump policies and supported the resolution in procedural voting on Tuesday.
Backers of the resolution of disapproval said it was too soon to ease sanctions, given Russia’s continuing aggression in Ukraine, the finding by US intelligence that Moscow interfered in the 2016 US election to boost Trump, and Russia’s support for the Syrian government in that country’s civil war.
The US military said on Wednesday that four Americans had been killed in Syria in a bomb attack claimed by Daesh militants.
Deripaska had ties with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, documents have shown. Manafort is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to conspiracy against the United States.
The Senate’s Republican majority leader, Mitch McConnell, dismissed the Democratic-led resolution as a political stunt.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Padraic Halpin in Dublin and Polina Devitt in Moscow; Editing by Tom Brown and Lisa Shumaker)


Shanahan drops bid to lead Pentagon, citing ‘painful’ past

Updated 3 min 30 sec ago
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Shanahan drops bid to lead Pentagon, citing ‘painful’ past

  • The acting defense secretary cited a 'painful' family situation that would hurt his children
  • Donald Trump said Army Secretary Mark Esper would be the new acting Pentagon chief

WASHINGTON: After months of unexplained delays, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan stepped down Tuesday before his formal nomination ever went to the Senate, citing a “painful” family situation that would hurt his children and reopen “wounds we have worked years to heal.”
President Donald Trump announced Shanahan’s departure in a tweet, and said that Army Secretary Mark Esper would be the new acting Pentagon chief.
“It is unfortunate that a painful and deeply personal family situation from long ago is being dredged up and painted in an incomplete and therefore misleading way in the course of this process,” Shanahan said in a statement. “I believe my continuing in the confirmation process would force my three children to relive a traumatic chapter in our family’s life and reopen wounds we have worked years to heal. Ultimately, their safety and well-being is my highest priority.”

The acting defense secretary did not provide specifics about the family situation but media outlets including The Washington Post and USA Today published extensive reports Tuesday about circumstances surrounding his 2011 divorce shortly before Trump tweeted that Shanahan’s nomination would not go forward.
In his statement, Shanahan said he asked to be withdrawn from the nomination process and he resigned from his previous post as deputy defense secretary. He said he would work on an “appropriate transition” but it wasn’t clear how quickly he will leave the job.
Defense officials said that leaders are trying to decide when Esper would take over the job. Officials were meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss transition plans. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations.
In his tweet, Trump simply said that Shanahan had done “a wonderful job” but would step aside to “devote more time to his family.”
And, in noting Esper’s move, Trump added, “I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!“
The post atop the Pentagon has not been filled permanently since Gen. James Mattis retired in January following policy differences with Trump.
Trump announced in May that he would nominate Shanahan but the formal nomination process in the Senate had been inexplicably delayed.
Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, has been leading the Pentagon as acting secretary since Jan. 1, a highly unusual arrangement for arguably the most sensitive Cabinet position.
His prospects for confirmation have been spotty due in large part to questions about his lengthy work as former Boeing executive and persistent questions about possible conflicts of interest.
The Defense Department’s Inspector General cleared Shanahan of any wrongdoing in connection with accusations he had shown favoritism toward Boeing during his time as deputy defense secretary, while disparaging Boeing competitors.
In Shanahan’s tenure at the department he’s had to deal with a wide array of international hotspots, ranging from missile launches by North Korea to the sudden shift of military ships and aircraft to the Middle East to deal with potential threats from Iran.
Shanahan, 56, had extensive of experience in the defense industry but little in government. In more than four months as the acting secretary, he focused on implementing the national defense strategy that was developed during Mattis’ tenure and emphasizes a shift from the resources and tactics required to fight small wars against extremist groups to what Shanahan calls “great power” competition with China and Russia.