Talking about Russia, UN ambassador cites Crimea sanctions that weren't always so popular

On CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley was asked what specific actions the administration was taking to confront Russia.

JOHN DICKERSON: Calling out [Russia] is just verbally, though. Anything more than that? Would you support, say, the legislation in the Senate, the Countering Russian Hostilities Act?

NIKKI HALEY: I have not read that. But I will tell you I am in support of going against Russia when we need to. You know, we certainly put sanctions on Russia for how they took over Crimea. We have continued to put pressure on them. Those things are going to continue to happen as we need to.

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Those sanctions on Crimea have come a long way in the Trump administration. They are not an example of an action the Trump administration has taken. They were put in place by the Obama administration in March of 2014, and were intended to punish President Putin’s actions “violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

The restrictions were not always held in such esteem by then President-elect Trump, who flirted with the idea of lifting them back in January. During his campaign, candidate Donald Trump criticized President Obama’s “weak” response to Russia’s move into Crimea. 

“I think he’s been a disaster. He’s been weak, he’s been ineffective,” Trump told Bill O’Reilly during an interview with Fox News in August 2016. “I believe I know far more about foreign policy than he knows. Look at Ukraine.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, during confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate,  sounded the same note. “I think the real question was the response to the taking of Crimea that then led to subsequent actions by Russia,” Tillerson remarked in response to questioning by Senator Ben Cardin. “The absence of a very firm and forceful response to the taking of Crimea was judged by the leadership in Russia as a weak response,” noted the former ExxonMobil chief, who had dealt extensively with Russia in the private sector.

So it was surprising that the “weak response” referenced by Secretary of State Tillerson was the only offering from Ambassador Haley when asked for concrete actions the administration had taken. This week Secretary of State Tillerson announced that the 2014 sanctions would stay in place.