Tillerson and Mogherini agree to uphold sanctions on Russia

The theory that Trump is in the thrall of Putin took another blow today, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the EU’s Federica Mogherini agreed to uphold current Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Trump administration and European officials agree on the need to keep sanctions in place against Russia until a two-year-old cease-fire agreement for the Ukraine conflict is fully implemented, the European Union’s foreign policy chief said Friday.

The EU’s high representative in charge of foreign policy Federica Mogherini, speaking to reporters after Thursday meetings with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other senior Trump administration officials, said the US and EU are united in their policy to bring about an end to violence in Eastern Ukraine.

“We agreed on the need to have full implementation of the Minsk agreement and on the fact that sanctions are linked to the full implementation of that agreement,” she said.

The idea, whispered in grave tones around Washington, that Trump would be likely to immediately sell out Ukraine and embrace Russia looks increasingly dubious in the early days of the new administration. As noted earlier, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s speech at the Security Council provided a significant tell that Trump’s Russia policy may be more continuous with the Obama administration’s than commonly assumed. And Tillerson’s meeting with Mogherini today suggests that the State Department and UN Mission are on the same page.

Of course, this does not mean that Trump will indefinitely pursue the same Russia policies as the last administration. Trump still seems interested in exploring new avenues of cooperation with Moscow, and he may re-evaluate existing sanctions not related to the Ukraine conflict, including those imposed by President Obama at the end of his tenure. Still, there have been few signs of the rapid policy shift so breathlessly predicted by many in the media. If Trump does change course on Russia, it is likely to be a gradual reorientation, not a sudden about-face.