When President Trump on Wednesday signed into law a bill that will impose new sanctions on Russia, he simultaneously expressed his opposition to the measure. The law aims to punish Moscow for its interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and limit the president’s own ability to unilaterally lift such sanctions. “By limiting the Executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together,” Trump said in a signing statement, adding that the bill was “seriously flawed.”
Then there was this somewhat surprising objection: The law, Trump said, “hurts the interests of our European allies.” It was surprising not only because Trump has been notably skeptical of the value of European alliances in the past, but also because Europeans were instrumental U.S. partners in the sanctions imposed on Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014. But these sanctions are different. European leaders have been vocal in their opposition to the bill since it was approved by the House last week, albeit for different reasons. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned of potential collateral damage to Europe’s energy market, as the sanctions could inadvertently hit European companies involved with Russia’s energy-export pipelines. One such pipeline, the Nord Stream 2, which aims to carry natural gas from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea, involves several European companies. “‘America First’ cannot mean that Europe’s interests come last,” Juncker said, adding that the Commission would be ready to act “within a matter of days” if their concerns were not addressed. Germany, in a separate warning, suggested the U.S. was using the sanctions as cover for its own natural-gas interests.