Three Hard Questions for Rex Tillerson About Russia Sanctions

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Author: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies
January 10, 2017

Wall Street Journal

When Rex Tillerson, Exxon Mobil Corp.’s longtime chief executive and now Donald Trump’s choice to be secretary of state, appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, he will get a lot of questions about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Is it a little too “cozy?” If he gets the job, will Mr. Tillerson serve Exxon’s interests or those of the U.S.? Does he trust Mr. Putin?

Mr. Tillerson will have no difficulty with softball questions like these. He’s not “cozy” with Mr. Putin at all, he’ll say. He has always bargained hard with the Russian president, and will do the same working for his new bosses, the American people. He’ll remind the committee that successful businessmen don’t operate on trust—they make sure to cut the cards.

If senators want a better conversation with Mr. Tillerson, they should get him to acknowledge—or dispute—the basic facts of Russian-American relations. Take the question of U.S. and European sanctions against Russia over its seizure of Ukrainian territory. Mr. Tillerson has said sanctions usually don’t work, so senators suspect he will be ready to dismantle them. For this reason, the questions they pose should aim at getting him to admit how much sanctions have accomplished.  Here are three suggestions:

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