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Trump Administration Will Impose New Sanctions on Russia After Nerve Agent Attack
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9 Aug 2018 02:07 PM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Investigation of Assassination Attempt on Sergei Skripal (Image source: Peter Curbishley via Wikimedia Commons)


It would seem the Trump administration can't decide where it stands with Russia. Accused of colluding with the Vladimir Putin-led nation during the 2016 presidential election, the administration, and Donald Trump himself, have denied collusion, said they want to work with them, honored them, met with them, blamed them, etc.

This time they are announcing they are imposing new sanctions on Russia after the nerve agent attack that was meant to assassinate Sergei Skripal, a British citizen and ex-Russian intelligence officer, and his daughter.

Trump in the past has resisted the efforts of Congress to impose sanctions on Russia for their interference in his election in 2016. However, this time he is required to act based on a 1991 law once it was determined that Russia was responsible for a chemical or biological weapons attack.

The State Department issued a statement that said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had determined Russia was responsible after the British government had concluded the same.

Russia was informed on Wednesday that they were being slapped with the sanctions, though they have denied responsibility for the nerve agent attack.

The first new sanction will take effect in two weeks and will include a broad ban on technology exports into Russia. While most technology related to national security is already restricted, some is still permitted. Yet, an official speaking on anonymity said nearly all export requests, including electronics and engines, will be denied once the new ban is in place.

The 1991 law requires a choice of additional measures unless Russia agrees within 90 days to stop the use of all chemical weapons and allows inspections to confirm they have been eliminated. These additional measures include the U.S. withdrawing its support for international loans and U.S. bank loans, Russian airlines' landing rights being prohibited, and diplomatic relations being suspended.

The export bans will apply to all enterprises in Russia that are state-owned or state-funded, a category the official said could amount to 70 percent of the Russian economy and 40 percent of the workforce.

Two-way trade between Russia and the U.S. amounted to $38 billion in 2013, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. That amount is believed to have decreased in the years since.

There will likely be some U.S. technology exports that will get waivers allowed under the law. This includes equipment that is needed for the International Space Station and commercial airliner parts so that air safety isn't compromised.

While the 1991 law allows the president to determine it is in the national-security interest of the U.S. to waive the mandated sanctions, the State Department official said there was no contradiction between Trump's efforts to improve relations with Russia and the sanctions being imposed.

"This is a question not of Russia policy, per se, but of implementing laws that Congress has put in place," said the official. "This is not about different bits of the administration going in different directions. We are all one administration, and we're all on the same page here.

"We are tough on Russia, and at the same time we're quite committed to working to maintain relations because there are important things at stake here. We work on cooperative things where it is possible to do so, and we cry foul when it's necessary to do so."

A few weeks after the Skripals were affected by the nerve agent attack, Trump, along with leaders from France, Germany, and Britain, signed a statement that blamed Russia for the assassination attempt. As a Russian military officer, Skripal was convicted of spying for Britain, where he settled after a 2010 prisoner exchange.

The statement required Russia to "address all questions" that related to the attack and provide "full and complete disclosure" of their program to produce Novichok, the nerve agent used in the attack.

Along with that statement, Trump also moved to expel 60 Russians, including a dozen who were identified as intelligence officers. He also closed the Russian consulate in Seattle. Other Western countries took similar actions.

British Prime Minister Theresa May requested that Trump talk to Vladimir Putin about the attack when the two men met in Helsinki last month, yet the meeting was done in private, so it's unknown if he addressed it or not.

Two British citizens, Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, who were living near Salisbury where the Skripals were poisoned, came in contact with Novichok in June. Rowley thought the poison was from a bottle of what he believed to be perfume he found on the ground and gave to his girlfriend, Sturgess.

Both became sick with what the British government determined was Novichok, although they are not sure if it is the same batch that was used in the attack on the Skripals. Sturgess died a week after being exposed. 

The 1991 law was acted on in 2017 as well. New sanctions were imposed on North Korea after a chemical attack killed the estranged half brother of Kim Jong Un in the international airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


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