Trump Signs Sanctions Bill

Trump Signs Sanctions Bill

President Trump today signed into law a bill that imposes additional sanctions on Russia.  The final version of the bill exempts NASA’s activities with Russia and space launches conducted for NASA or the commercial sector.

Although he signed the bill, H.R. 3364, the President made clear his distaste for it.  Calling the legislation “seriously flawed,” he said he was signing it “for the sake of national unity.”

The bill passed the House 419-3 and the Senate 98-2, both veto-proof majorities.   It not only imposes additional sanctions on Russia, as well as Iran and North Korea, but prohibits the President from waiving the sanctions without congressional approval.  That is one of the President’s objections — that it “encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate” with other countries.  He criticized Congress’s inability to negotiate an agreement on health care while heralding what he sees as his own achievements in the business world:  “As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”

Congress imposed the new sanctions against Russian individuals and entities because of Russia’s interventions in Ukraine and for “undermining cybersecurity.”  The President acknowledged in his statement that the bill “represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States.”

Despite the deterioration in U.S.-Russian relationships since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, space cooperation between the two countries does not appear to be affected.  Russia is a critical partner in the U.S.-Russian-European-Japanese-Canadian International Space Station (ISS) program and is the only partner currently capable of ferrying crews back and forth.  Russia also builds the RD-180 engines for the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket and the RD-181s for Orbital ATK’s Antares.  U.S. companies launch satellites on Russian rockets and U.S. agencies use capacity on foreign satellites, such as communications satellites, that are launched on Russian rockets.

Russia earns a substantial amount of money for these products and services.  For example, NASA pays Russia approximately $82 million per seat to take U.S., European, Japanese and Canadian astronauts to and from ISS. The United States is developing new rocket engines to replace Russia’s and new crew space transportation systems, but until they are operational, it will remain dependent on Russia for those space activities.

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