Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

John Block: Sanctions on Russia

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block


The U.S. Congress can’t agree on anything. However, they did agree to impose new sanctions on Russia. The vote was almost unanimous. The action is punishment for the Russian cyber intrusions into last year’s election. In addition to the sanctions, the bill restricts President Trump’s flexibility in dealing with Russia. Presidents are responsible for managing our international relations and they are not happy when the Congress ties their hands. That is a big problem for President Trump. He has felt all along that he could negotiate a better deal and better relationship with Russia. After all, we need to work with them to stabilize the Middle East.

I accept the fact that Russia hacked into our election. Russia is hacking, China is hacking, we are hacking. Every country hacks and every country has spies. Democrats seemed quite satisfied with the modest sanctions imposed by President Obama on Russia. But, with Trump as President, they are singing a different tune.

I am not happy with the Congress for restricting President Trump’s flexibility. The European Union is not happy either. Russia is one of their biggest trading partners. Also, they are working on an oil pipeline from Russia to Europe. Russia provides one-third of European oil. The European Commission President had this to say: “America first cannot mean Europe’s interests come last.”

Of course, now Russia feels that they must respond to our sanctions. They are kicking more than 300 U.S. diplomats out of Russia. Do we need a new Cold War? Piling sanctions on Russia escalates hostility.

We need to make a deal with Russia – give the President a chance. Together, maybe we can get rid of ISIS; end the fighting in Syria; put more pressure on North Korea; agree not to hack into each others’ government, businesses, or politics; find a way to end the fighting in Eastern Ukraine. We can’t get anything done if we just escalate hostility.

The legislation does provide for new sanctions against North Korea and Iran, which President Trump supports.

My objection to all of these sanctions is that they are dictated by the Congress. Such decisions should be left to the President. Maybe the Congress should concentrate on the health care bill, tax reform, and a budget.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

More From


Subscribe to receive OFW’s Food & Agriculture World Insights Newsletter.