US Treasury secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin said he is 100% committed to enforcing the sanctions against Russia, as he gave evidence during the Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearings on January 19.
The Treasury is the institution that effectively enforces sanctions and Mnuchin's comments highlight that much is still to be decided on the future of US-Russia relations, the positive outlook on which has been supporting Russian assets since the election of Donald Trump.
"The president-elect has made it very clear that he would only change those sanctions if he got, 'a better deal' and we would get something in return," Mnuchin told senators.
In Moscow the same day, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev tempered any hopes of a fast shift away from the sanctions. "We shouldn't kid ourselves, most likely [sanctions and low oil prices] will stay as is in the near future," TASS quoted Medvedev as saying. "We’re going to base our actions on a conservative forecast," he added.
Relations between the two countries plunged to their lowest ebb since the Cold War in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea and encouraged a separatist conflict in East Ukraine, resulting in the imposition that year of the US and EU economic sanctions.
Outgoing US President Barack Obama on January 13 fired another parting shot at the Kremlin by taking steps that could complicate the removal of the sanctions for another year. Most of the outlooks on Russia in 2016, both domestic and international, see the US and EU sanctions remaining in place at least until 2018.
As a bne IntelliNews analysis showed, relations between US and Russia face some tricky revision and remapping of interests and conflicts under Trump, some favouring better ties, but other key aspects also likely to hamper efforts.
Three days before Trump's January 20 inauguration, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in his annual press conference that Moscow does not expect the new president and his team "to employ double standards" or "moralise" and welcomes an expected shift to pragmatic relations.