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Russia sanctions: EU vows to retaliate over US measures

The European Union has expressed concern about US plans to impose fresh sanctions on Russia, amid concern they could hurt energy companies.

The EU Commission sounded the alarm after the US House of Representatives voted in favour of the measures, despite opposition from Donald Trump.

The bill is likely to complicate the US president’s hopes of improving relations with Russia.

It aims to punish Russia for alleged interference in the 2016 US election.

In a statement, the Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “The EU is fully committed to the Russia sanctions regime.”

But he warned of “unintended unilateral effects that impact the EU’s energy security interests”.

Several European nations, including Germany, are angry because the new law could penalise companies working on pipelines from Russia, for example by limiting their access to US banks.

The legislation, which also includes sanctions against Iran and North Korea over ballistic missile tests, still needs to be passed through the US Senate before it can be sent on to the president to be signed.

It is unclear whether the president will veto it.

What concerns the White House is a measure that limits the president’s traditional right to waive the sanctions, instead forcing him to consult Congress first, says the BBC’s state department correspondent Barbara Plett-Usher.

The broad bipartisan support the legislation attracted in the House shows just how wary lawmakers are about Mr Trump’s pro-Moscow approach, she adds.

Russia’s relationship with the president has dogged his first six months in office, amid allegations Moscow interfered to help Mr Trump get elected.

The legistlation which passed by 419 to three, was described by House Speaker Paul Ryan as a sanctions package that “tightens the screws on our most dangerous adversaries in order to keep Americans safe”.

The sanctions on Russia were drawn up in part to further punish its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. If passed, they would:

  • Penalise firms, including those in Europe, that contribute to Russian energy development, affecting companies involved the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany
  • Shorten the duration of loans to Russian banks and Russian oil and gas companies
  • Freeze assets of state-owned Russian mining and railway companies
  • Codify existing sanctions to make them more difficult to lift in the future
  • Stop President Trump being able to singlehandedly ease the sanctions

The US already has a range of sanctions in place against Russian individuals and companies over Crimea. In December, following claims of election hacking, then-President Barack Obama expelled 35 diplomats and closed two Russian compounds in the US.

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