If Donald Trump seeks better relations with Vladimir Putin, as he regularly proclaims, he could lift most of America’s economic sanctions against Russia with a stroke of his pen – by countermanding the executive orders that President Obama used to retaliate against Putin’s actions in the Ukraine and Crimea. But Obama crafted those sanctions in lockstep with the European Union, which – as the largest purchaser of Russian exports – had (and still has) much greater leverage to exert. Since the EU has also paid the lion’s share of the price for sanctions – in Russian counter-sanctions against imports of EU products – it could well be that any American relaxation of sanctions would lead to a collapse of the anti-Putin alliance generally.
While this might further Trump’s bromance with Putin, it would likely be opposed by all three of Trump’s top national security nominees – Generals Flynn and Mattis, plus CIA director-designate Mike Pompeo – and Congress has enacted legislation that, so far from tieing presidents’ hands in responding to Putin, clearly expresses the view that Obama’s response has been too timid. So stay tuned.