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Democrats fight to reinstate sanctions on Russian oligarch

Trump lashes out over Russia reports
Trump lashes out over Russia reports 09:26

The Senate will vote Tuesday afternoon on whether to block a Treasury Department proposal that would lift sanctions on three Russian companies, including Rusal, the world's second-largest aluminum producer. 

The companies are all owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who became the subject of U.S. sanctions last Spring. But the punitive financial measures, triggered by what the Trump administration called Russia's "malign activities," had an almost immediate impact on the global aluminum market. Prices of the commodity surged, European allies warned of job losses, and American manufacturers complained about cost increases. 

In response, the Treasury Department worked out a deal to remove three of Deripaksa's companies — Rusal, En+ and EuroSibEnergo —  from the blacklist if he agreed to reduce his ownership stake to less than 50 percent. 

Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, however, says the deal isn't good enough, calling it "weak" and "deeply suspect." He's leading the charge to bring the issue to a vote. 

"The senate must consider that Deripaska has deep ties to President Putin and his intelligence apparatus, organized crime and Mr. Paul Manafort, a subject of the Special Counsel's investigation," he said on the Senate floor Tuesday. 

Under the law, the House and Senate have 30 days to consider the sanctions measure and try to block it. Friday is the deadline. Schumer is hoping he can convince enough Republicans to join him and scuttle the deal. 

"I believe my Senate colleagues will see the wisdom of keeping the current sanctions in place," he said. 

But many of America's closest allies disagree. In November, eight European ambassadors sent a letter to Schumer in support of de-listing Rusal and the other companies. The sanctions, they wrote, had destabilized the European aluminum market and put at risk an estimated 75,000 jobs. 

"It is crucial that the sanctions avoid unintended consequences for European companies," they wrote. "The delisting will help preserve existing supply chains which would otherwise likely be rerouted to China, further strengthening its global market position in the industry."

Tuesday, the Irish Ambassador to the US Daniel Mulhall wrote an article warning that the sanctions could have negative, far-reaching foreign policy consequences for United States. 

"The wider ramifications of these sanctions for the European economy would, in my opinion, also be very damaging to transatlantic relations at this critical time when Europeans and Americans need to stand together in the face of rising threats to their shared values and interests," he wrote. 

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