Archive for May 9th, 2017

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Consolidated Appropriations – Occupied territories and devils in the detail

May 9, 2017

The US recently saw the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2017 (to employ its official short title) become law.

When first seen by the blog in April 2017 the Act was 1665 pages of rather dreary looking text that only interest groups would scour looking for relevant sections the would hope to see – or not.  Prima facie an otherwise particularly wearisome read relating to funding that in its entirety relatively few readers would tackle with any enthusiasm.

In short, the kind of lengthy and dull Act where it is possible to slip in something important in the hope that few objectors would notice either its presence or, if noticed, then the importance of any particular clause and/or wording.

How many Congressmen and Senators, considering the amount of hours in a day, read the entire 1665 pages before voting on this Act?  How much, beyond what they personally lobbied for, would they otherwise scrutinize?

With the Trump Administration still replete with vacancies, does anybody surrounding the president have the time to thoroughly read, and more to the point fully comprehend, any clever wordsmithery that may alter and/or set the US position on issues.  Does anybody actually know the current Administration’s position on many issues – positions from whence policy is set?

As President Trump by his own admission does not read books, rhetorically, what are the chances that he fully familiarised himself with every line in this 1665 page Act before signing it into law?

Having become law on 6th May 2017, this Act is still a “long read” even when far more aesthetically presented than the text circulated in April – and anyway an Act dealing with internal and external funding may have some effect upon foreign policy, but does it set it?  Does it cast in legislative stone US positions previously uncast?

The media headlines relating to this Act and that within that applies directly to this part of the world all concentrated upon $100,000,000 funding made available to fight Russian agitprop and active measures.  When looking at an Act that deals with funding, plucking out such new funding to counter The Kremlin is a natural media target.

However, a reader may take note of some very clear legal text in SEC 7070 buried within this statute that codifies positions far beyond issues of finance and funding.  Perhaps unsurprising, yet pleasing to see codified is the issue of Crimea:

 (a) Limitation.—None of the funds appropriated by this Act may be made available for assistance for the central Government of the Russian Federation.

(b) Annexation Of Crimea.—

(1) None of the funds appropriated by this Act may be made available for assistance for the central government of a country that the Secretary of State determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations has taken affirmative steps intended to support or be supportive of the Russian Federation annexation of Crimea: Provided, That except as otherwise provided in subsection (a), the Secretary may waive the restriction on assistance required by this paragraph if the Secretary determines and reports to such Committees that to do so is in the national interest of the United States, and includes a justification for such interest.

(2) None of the funds appropriated by this Act may be made available for—

(A) the implementation of any action or policy that recognizes the sovereignty of the Russian Federation over Crimea;

(B) the facilitation, financing, or guarantee of United States Government investments in Crimea, if such activity includes the participation of Russian Government officials, or other Russian owned or controlled financial entities; or

(C) assistance for Crimea, if such assistance includes the participation of Russian Government officials, or other Russian owned or controlled financial entities.

(3) The Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive directors of each international financial institution to vote against any assistance by such institution (including any loan, credit, or guarantee) for any program that violates the sovereignty or territorial integrity of Ukraine.

(4) The requirements and limitations of this subsection shall cease to be in effect if the Secretary of State determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that the Government of Ukraine has reestablished sovereignty over Crimea.

Nevertheless US law now clearly does not recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia as anything other than illegal – and no US funding will be forthcoming for any act or policy that would do so.

Somewhat more surprising was the following relating to Georgia and its territorial integrity where Russia has long since recognised the two “independent States” it forced from Georgian control in 2008.

“(c) Occupation Of The Georgian Territories Of Abkhazia And Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia.—

(1) None of the funds appropriated by this Act may be made available for assistance for the central government of a country that the Secretary of State determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations has recognized the independence of, or has established diplomatic relations with, the Russian occupied Georgian territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia: Provided, That the Secretary shall publish on the Department of State Web site a list of any such central governments in a timely manner: Provided further, That the Secretary may waive the restriction on assistance required by this paragraph if the Secretary determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that to do so is in the national interest of the United States, and includes a justification for such interest.

(2) None of the funds appropriated by this Act may be made available to support the Russian occupation of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia.

(3) The Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive directors of each international financial institution to vote against any assistance by such institution (including any loan, credit, or guarantee) for any program that violates the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia.

(4) Not later than 90 days after enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report on actions taken by the Russian Federation to further consolidate the occupation of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia, including the estimated annual costs of such occupation.”

The US has legislatively and unambiguously now labeled Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia as occupied territories by the Russian Federation.

This recognition in US law that these Georgian regions are officially and legislatively viewed as occupied territories is actually much more important than the provision of $100 million in funding to combat Kremlin agitprop – albeit that is not an insignificant act in and of itself.

This is obviously a major win for Georgia and it was therefore no surprise that swiftly after the 6th May when this law came into effect, the Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili received audience with President Trump.  Somebody somewhere within The Beltway lobbying for Georgia has a keen eye on legislative and diplomatic timetables to be able to programme such a timely visit.

What was actually said during the meeting remains unclear.  The White House did not provide a swift account of the meeting.  A reader may ponder then whether Prime Minister Kvirikashvili explained the ramifications of embedding legal recognition within US statute with regard to “the Russian occupation of the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia.”   There are, after all, legal consequences for those recognised as occupational forces, and coincidentally – or not – this legislation comes into effect at a time when the Russian Federation is officially integrating the South Ossetian armed forces into the Russian military.

Whether knowingly or otherwise, the US – Russian relationship, be it nothing more than transactional and increasingly adversarial (at least overtly), just became a little more so.

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