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Will Trump Lift U.S. Sanctions Against Russia?

Why Doing So Would Weaken International Law

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow, Russia, December 2016.  Alexei Druzhinin / REUTERS

“If Russia is really helping us,” U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said in an interview the week before his inauguration, “why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?” True to his word, the president is now considering steps that would unilaterally remove at least some of the sanctions that the United States imposed on Russia in the wake of its 2014 annexation of Crimea. 

Trump is certainly entitled to seek better relations with Russia, and lifting the sanctions might help get him there. For a president who campaigned on promises of joining with Moscow to fight terrorism and repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, such a move would not be a surprise.

But it would be a mistake. For one thing, it defies the logic of sanctions to lift them without any changes in Russia's approach to Crimea. The point of sanctions, after all, is not

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