Senate Republicans block attempt to keep sanctions on Russian oligarch’s firms

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Bill Browder, a British-American businessman whose company Hermitage Capital Management was seized by the Russian state, argues that Thursday's vote is a sign that "the American people don't want to give Putin any gifts".

Many members of Congress have been questioning the Treasury Department's mid-December decision to ease sanctions 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.

But the Trump administration has been pushing Republican lawmakers hard not to support the resolution of disapproval of the decision to ease the sanctions, which were introduced by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. Democratic senators on Wednesday narrowly failed to get the 60 votes needed to move forward despite 11 Republicans voting with them.

Congress has the power to reject any lessening of sanctions on Russian Federation, but only if it has enough votes.

In 2017, Trump signed a bill granting Congress the power to halt the weakening of any sanctions on Russian Federation by his administration within 30 days of announcement.

The Republicans who voted with Democrats were John Boozman and Tom Cotton of Arkansas; Susan Collins of Maine; Cory Gardner of Colorado; Steve Daines of Montana; Josh Hawley of Missouri; John Kennedy of Louisiana; Martha McSally of Arizona; Marco Rubio of Florida; Jerry Moran of Kansas; and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

Treasury justified the move by noting that Deripaska agreed to reduce his ownership of the companies to less than 50 percent.

"Congress can not just look the other way when the administration rushes a decision like this", said House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel.

Mnuchin had lobbied GOP senators to vote against Schumer's resolution. "Deripaska has been Putin's main man in the private sector and the USA should hold his feet to the fire without showing any mercy", Browder told Newsweek.

The sanctions ban Americans and companies with U.S. arms - like many global banks - from doing business with those on the United States blacklist.

Brian O'Toole, an expert in economic sanctions at the Washington D.C. -based Atlantic Council, says that Thursday's House vote could make the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) more cautious when it decides whom to sanction in the future.

No House Republicans spoke on the House floor in favor of the Trump administration's decision. He said the sanctions "shouldn't be a political issue".

Schumer, in comments on the Senate floor, questioned why more Republicans weren't willing to support the resolution, given their decades-long rhetoric about standing up toward Russian Federation and Putin.

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