Trump declines to implement new Russia sanctions

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The Trump administration told Congress on Monday that bipartisan legislation passed last year authorizing new sanctions on Russia is already “serving as a deterrent,” and there’s no need to actually implement the penalties at this time.

A spokesperson for the State Department said the mere possibility of facing sanctions through the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) has served as an effective countermeasure. 

“Given the long timeframes generally associated with major defense deals, the results of this effort are only beginning to become apparent. From that perspective, if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent,” the spokesperson said.

{mosads}The 2017 legislation allows President Trump to postpone imposing sanctions on people or entities if he determines they are largely scaling back their transactions with Russia’s defense or intelligence sectors, as long as he notifies the appropriate congressional committees at least every 180 days that they are seeing such progress.
The move is likely to be sharply criticized by Democrats and Russia hawks, who have called on Trump to take a stronger hand in countering Moscow’s election meddling, aggression in Ukraine and support of President Bashar Assad in Syria.
If Trump didn’t opt to delay, he would have to impose at least five sanctions on those that knowingly conduct significant transactions with Russia. 
Trump signed CAATSA into law in August despite his initial protest over the “flawed legislation,” which overwhelmingly passed through Congress in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The law also limits Trump’s ability to lift prior sanctions or return diplomatic compounds seized from Russia under the Obama administration. 
The president, who sought to change CAATSA while it was being written, sharply criticized the law while signing it in August.
“By limiting the executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together,” Trump said in a statement at the time.

The State spokesperson said Monday that some of the senior-most State Department officials and other U.S. authorities have privately and publicly dangled the threat of sanctions over both foreign governments and other entities for their dealings with listed Russian entities. 

“Since the enactment of the CAATSA legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

The legislation aims to deny Russia from reaping financial proceeds from its military and intelligence equipment sales by punishing those that make such purchases.

If sanctions are issued, they will “primarily be on non-Russian entities that are responsible for significant transactions with Russia’s defense and intelligence sector,” the spokesperson said.

The move comes amid the ongoing special counsel probe into Russia’s hacking efforts during the 2016 election, as well as possible ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Trump has repeatedly dismissed the investigation as a “witch hunt” drummed up by Democrats to explain their surprise loss at the ballot box.

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