Trump admin to hit Russia with new sanctions

Trump admin to hit Russia with new sanctions
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The Trump administration is imposing new sanctions on Russia over Moscow’s use of a nerve agent in Britain against an ex-Russian spy.

The State Department said in a statement on Wednesday that the new sanctions would take effect on or around Aug. 22.

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The State Department said the United States determined on Monday that the Kremlin “has used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law or has used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals,” citing a 1991 law called the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act.

The United States joined Britain and other European allies in blaming Moscow for the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Britain earlier this year.

The U.S., Britain, France and Germany issued a statement earlier this year condemning the March 4 attack as a “breach of international law” and a threat to international security. 

“The United Kingdom thoroughly briefed its allies that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack,” the governments said in a joint statement on March 15.

“We share the United Kingdom's assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia's failure to address the legitimate request by the government of the United Kingdom further underlines Russia's responsibility.”

Later in the month, Trump expelled 60 Russian intelligence agents and shuttered a Russian diplomatic facility in Seattle in response to the nerve agent attack. Russia has denied involvement in the poisoning. 

But the Trump administration never determined officially that Russia violated international law in its use of the nerve agent to trigger sanctions under the 1991 law, until now. 

The sanctions will restrict the licenses granted for exports of national security goods and technologies to Russia.

Officials said Wednesday that there will be some “carve outs” for specific goods and technologies, including those involved in space flight activities, which will instead be subject to a case-by-case licensing decision.

Russia will also be hit by additional sanctions in 90 days if Moscow does not meet a series of criteria under the law. Officials said the criteria include Moscow demonstrating that it is no longer using chemical or biological weapons against international law or against its own citizens, and showing a willingness to offer onsite, independent inspections to prove this.

“Hopefully we will not get to that point, but that’s really a question for Russia than for us,” a senior State Department official told reporters Wednesday.  

The administration missed the statutory deadline for deciding whether to sanction Moscow for the poisoning, prompting a rebuke from the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month.

On Wednesday, a senior State Department official said it was the “norm” for administrations to be late on making the official determination with respect to sanctions under the law, citing government bureaucracy.

The development comes as Trump continues to weather scrutiny for his one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, last month.

Trump drew widespread criticism after the summit for casting doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. The president, attempting to ease the backlash, walked back his statement a day later.

Since the summit, Trump officials have mounted a public push to show that the administration has been tough on Russia. Vice President Pence last week called out Russia for interfering in the election and emphasized that the U.S. “will not tolerate” interference by Russia or other foreign nations in future elections.

Trump has repeatedly expressed an interest in improving relations with Moscow in order to work on areas of mutual agreement, like Syria.

Officials maintain that the administration is united in its position on Moscow.

“We are all one administration and we are all on the same page,” a senior State Department official said Wednesday.

The official added, “We are tough on Russia and at the same time we are quite committed to making sure we maintain relations” in order to work on issues of mutual agreement.

Officials have informed the Kremlin of the new sanctions, but would not go into further detail on those discussions.

Updated at 4:30 p.m.