Speed Reads

From Russia With...?

Freshly returned from Moscow, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson says the U.S. needs to rethink Russia sanctions

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) came back from his June 30-July 5 trip to Russia with some new perspectives on the sanctions the U.S. imposed on Moscow after its annexation of Crimea and interference in the 2016 presidential election. "We need to take a look at sanctions — are they actually changing Russia's behavior?" he told Sirius XM Washington correspondent Olivier Knox on Friday. "And right now, unfortunately, I don't think they're particularly working from that standpoint."

The eight-Republican delegation to St. Petersburg and Moscow — led by Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.) and including Johnson, Rep. Kay Granger (Texas) and Sens. Steve Daines (Mont.), John Hoeven (N.D.), John Kennedy (La.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), and John Thune (S.D.) — met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian lawmakers, though not President Vladimir Putin. "Members of the delegation set off on their trip late last week promising to be tough with Russian officials ahead of the president's visit, especially on matters of election interference," The Washington Post reported. "But they struck a conciliatory tone once there," which "played well in Moscow, but not on the home front."

Johnson told The Washington Examiner that the GOP delegation did hammer the Russians on Moscow's meddling in the 2016 election, but the Russians "would push back with all the ways we interfere in their politics in terms of funding NGOs, and Radio Free Europe and Voice of America," and "nobody yielded." At the same time, he added, "I've been pretty upfront that the election interference — as serious as that was, and unacceptable — is not the greatest threat to our democracy. ... We've blown it way out of proportion." Johnson also said some sanctions did have promise: "My sense is that the targeted sanctions to the oligarchs, to the members of government, are the ones that really sting and probably [offer] the best chance of affecting their behavior."