US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who for the first time traveled in this capacity to Sochi to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin, did not come empty-handed.
After publicly announcing his desire to “improve relations with Russia”, “find common ground” and reach an agreement on Venezuela, Pompeo threatened the Russian leaders with new sanctions.
A new sanction bill was put forward in the US House of Representatives on 10 May, only two days after Pompeo’s intention to visit Russia was announced. The bill will be considered by the Committee on Financial Services when the outcome of the negotiations in Sochi becomes clear. Its text has been published on the official Congress website.
The new bill is not too different to its predecessors, which have been mired down by bureaucratic red tape. It proposes the immediate and unconditional introduction of new sanctions on Russian government debt, including securities related to the Russian Finance Ministry, National Wealth Fund, the Bank of Russia and other organizations linked to the government.
Furthermore, it would have the US Treasury Department make it mandatory for all American legal entities to disclose whether they have links to or shares in any of the six largest Russian state banks: Sberbank, VTB, Rosselkhozbank, Gazprombank, VEB or Promsvyazbank.
The second phase of sanctions would be imposed if Russia is found to have interfered in the 2020 US presidential elections.
If Russia is found to have meddled, at least one of the 6 state banks would be blacklisted, banned from having a correspondent account in the US, and thereby banned from performing dollar transactions. In addition, a ban would be imposed on any investments larger than $5 million in Russian energy projects outside of Russia (e.g. gas pipelines).
“I explained to Mr. Lavrov that interference in a US election campaign is unacceptable, and if this happens in 2020, relations between us will become even worse,” Pompeo said after the meeting.
“We also hope that Russia will stop supporting the Maduro regime, so that the suffering of the Venezuelan people can end,” the US Secretary of State added.
A third requirement is that the Kremlin “extend a hand” to the Ukrainian government to find a solution to the Donbas crisis, and release the captured Ukrainian sailors.
Lavrov claims to have sent Donald Trump an “aide-memoire” through Pompeo with suggestions on how to improve bilateral relations.
“We agreed on the importance of restoring communication channels. Recently these channels have been frozen, not least due to the wave of baseless accusations against us of attempting to influence the outcome of American elections and the existence of a certain collusion between us and high-ranking officials in the current US administration,” Lavrov noted.
“Naturally, we listed to what Trump said about expecting to meet with President Putin,” the Russian Foreign Minister continued, “including as part of their involvement in the G20 summit in Osaka. If we receive such an offer, we will certainly respond positively to it. We spoke about this today with Michael Pompeo.”