It’s been about four years since Vladimir Putin’s Russian government annexed Crimea, prompting international outrage and a series of burdensome economic sanctions. Nevertheless, as far as Moscow is concerned, the dispute is over, and this part of Ukraine is now Russian soil.In the U.S. Congress, however, the dispute is far from settled. In fact, in the newly signed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), there’s fairly specific language that says the Trump administration must not recognize Crimea as part of Russia.
As Roll Call reported this morning, the president signed the NDAA into law, but he soon after issued a signing statement about this provision, announcing plans to ignore it.
Language in the fiscal 2019 defense authorization, which Trump signed in to law Monday during a ceremony at Fort Drum in upstate New York, purported to impose a funding blockade on the Pentagon acting on recognition of Crimea as part of Russia.
The literal text of the new law states: “None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available for fiscal year 2019 for the Department of Defense may be obligated or expended to implement any activity that recognizes the sovereignty of the Russian Federation over Crimea.”
This isn’t to say the administration will recognize Crimea as Russian soil, but the signing statement – which is available in its entirety here – leaves open the possibility, rejecting Congress’ authority to tie Trump’s hands.
This follows recent comments from the Republican president in which he emphasized all the money the Putin government has spent in Crimea, as if this might help justify Moscow’s position.
Trump added, in reference to possibly recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, “We’ll have to see.”
That wasn’t a “no.”
With the Crimea dispute in mind, CBS News’ Margaret Brennan asked White House National Security Advisor John Bolton on “Face the Nation” last month if the administration is prepared to endorse the idea that international borders can be redrawn by force. Bolton responded that this is “not the position of the United States,” to which the host noted that the president made it sound like it could be.
In theory, lawmakers should not be at all pleased with the White House’s new signing statement, but if you’re counting on a fierce reaction from the Republican-led Congress, I’d suggest lowering your expectations.