Over the last five years, Congress and the executive branch have closely monitored and responded to new developments in Russian policy. These developments include the following:
increasingly authoritarian governance since Vladimir Putin's return to the presidential post in 2012;
Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and support of separatists in eastern Ukraine;
violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty;
Moscow's intervention in Syria in support of Bashar al Asad's government;
increased military activity in Europe; and
cyber-related influence operations that, according to the U.S. intelligence community, have targeted the 2016 U.S. presidential election and countries in Europe.
In response, the United States has imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions related to Russia's actions in Ukraine and Syria, malicious cyber activity, and human rights violations. The United States also has led NATO in developing a new military posture in Central and Eastern Europe designed to reassure allies and deter aggression.
U.S. policymakers over the years have identified areas in which U.S. and Russian interests are or could be compatible. The United States and Russia have cooperated successfully on issues such as nuclear arms control and nonproliferation, support for military operations in Afghanistan, the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, the International Space Station, and the removal of chemical weapons from Syria. In addition, the United States and Russia have identified other areas of cooperation, such as countering terrorism, illicit narcotics, and piracy.
Like previous U.S. Administrations, President Donald J. Trump has sought to improve U.S.-Russian relations at the start of his tenure. In its first six months, the Trump Administration expressed an intention to pursue cooperation or dialogue with Russia on a range of pursuits (e.g., Syria, North Korea, cybersecurity). At initial meetings with President Putin in April and July 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Trump said they agreed to find ways to improve channels of communication and begin addressing issues dividing the two countries.
At the same time, the Administration has indicated that it intends to adhere to core international commitments and principles, as well as to retain sanctions on Russia. Secretary Tillerson has stated that Ukraine-related sanctions will remain in place "until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered" them. Secretary Tillerson and other officials also have noted the severity of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the need for an appropriate response.
Since the start of the 115th Congress, many Members of Congress have actively engaged with the Administration on questions concerning U.S.-Russian relations. As of August 2017, Congress has held more than 20 hearings on matters directly relating to Russia, codified and strengthened sanctions through the Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-44, Title II), and considered other measures to assess and respond to Russian interference in the 2016 elections, influence operations in Europe, INF Treaty violations, and illicit financial activities abroad.
This report provides background information on Russian politics, economics, and military issues. It discusses a number of key issues concerning Russia's foreign relations and the U.S.-Russian relationship.
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