Russia: Obama signed defense bill to create problems for Trump

Russia: Obama signed defense bill to create problems for Trump
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Russia is accusing President Obama of creating problems for President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems make history, and other takeaways from Tuesday's primaries Pawlenty loses comeback bid in Minnesota Establishment-backed Vukmir wins Wisconsin GOP Senate primary MORE by signing the annual defense policy bill last week.

In a statement Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry listed a litany of objections to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), including the renewal of language related to Russian aggression in Ukraine and the easing of restrictions on supplying weapons to Syrian rebels.

“Overall, it appears that the Authorization Act has been adopted by the outgoing Obama administration, which is hastily introducing new sanctions against Russia, to create problems for the incoming Trump administration and complicate its relations on the international stage, as well as to force it to adopt an anti-Russia policy,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in the statement.

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“This policy has brought the current US administration, which believed that Russia would bow to pressure, into a dead end. We hope the new administration will be more sagacious.”

Trump has made overtures toward improving relations with Russia, including praising Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader and dismissing intelligence assessments that Russia meddled in the election by hacking into Democratic Party systems.

Obama signed the NDAA on Friday. The bill was passed by veto-proof majorities in both the House and the Senate earlier this month.

As in other recent years, the bill prohibits military cooperation between the United States and Russia until Russia has “ceased its occupation of Ukrainian territory and its aggressive activities that threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”

Russia has occupied Ukraine's Crimea region since March 2014 and has also been providing support for pro-Russia separatist movement in eastern Ukraine that began shortly after the occupation.

The bill also authorizes $3.4 billion for the European Reassurance Initiative that will pay for troop and weapons deployments to Eastern Europe, among other steps to reassure U.S. allies anxious about Russian aggression.

“It is unclear how Russia can threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity of NATO member states, when it is our American partners and their allies who have enhanced their military activities, expanding the territory of the alliance and moving their military capabilities closer to Russian borders,” Zakharova said. “It is not surprising that we have to take this into account when planning our military development.”

Trump repeatedly called NATO obsolete over the course of his campaign, saying it should do more to fight terrorism. He made waves when he said he would look at whether NATO allies have “fulfilled their obligations to us” before deciding whether to defend them if they are attacked.

The law signed by Obama also contains a provision that sets conditions for the Pentagon to supply man-portable air defense systems (MANPAD) to Syrian rebels. Previous defense bills have been silent on the issue, and it’s long been U.S. policy not to give MANPADs to rebels at all for fear of them falling into terrorists’ hands.

Under the bill, the Pentagon can supply the weapons to vetted Syrian rebels after reporting to Congress a description of the rebels receiving the weapons, the number and type of the MANPADs being provided, the logistics of providing and resupplying the rebels, the duration of support and the justification for the support.

In her statement, Zakharova said supplying such weapons to Syrian rebels “directly threatens” Russian air forces, which are operating in Syria in support of President Bashar Assad.

“The Obama administration is bound to see that these weapons will soon find their way to the jihadists with whom the alleged ‘moderate opposition’ has been acting hand in glove,” she said. “This US decision directly threatens the aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces, other Russian military personnel and the Russian Embassy in Syria, which has been shelled more than once. This is why we view this as a hostile decision."

Obama had a number of issues with the NDAA, particularly its funding levels and its restrictions on closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. But he signed it anyway because it authorizes vital funding and programs, including efforts “to reassure our European allies,” he said in a statement Friday.

At his year-end press conference earlier this month, Obama took a number of shots at Russia. He said “Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave” at Republican voters’ warming to Putin.

He also accused Russia, Assad and Iran of waging a “savage assault” on the Syrian city of Aleppo, which has since fallen to the regime.

“Responsibility for this brutality lies in one place alone — with the Assad regime and its allies Russia and Iran,” Obama said. “And this blood and these atrocities are on their hands.”

Updated at 12:24 p.m.