The Trump administration wants to impose new sanctions on Russia for poisoning an ex-agent in the UK, this news was confirmed by White House officials on Wednesday. The US Secretary of State signed off on a determination that confirmed the Kremlin violated international law when they used a nerve agent to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter back in March. US had joined other European nations in condemning Russia for the attack, but it hadn’t used a formal determination yet. Now that the determination has been issued, it triggered automatic sanctions.
These new sanctions could help Trump improve his stance on the ongoing Special Counsel investigation into Russia election meddling. The president has often been accused of doing very little to stop Russian incursion into US democracy, but he has always insisted that none of his predecessors were as tough on Russia as he has been so far. Trump has expressed his objection to the Mueller investigation too repeatedly calling it a “witch hunt” and, at some point, a “stain on America”.
Nonetheless, even as the sanctions come into effect, Trump had to be pushed by the Congress to impose them. A formal congressional request in March asked the Trump administration to check whether Russia had violated international law in the Skripal poisoning within two months. The deadline came and went without any response from the White House. In July, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Ed Royce, called out the president on the delay.
The president also came under massive backlash after what many analysts called a “disgraceful” showing after a meeting with Putin in Helsinki. It was a rare bipartisan criticism of the president. The GOP has been steadfast in their loyalty to the president so far, but on the Helsinki summit, many grew frustrated on how Trump handled the matter. The sanctions were still not in place at the time. According to administration officials, making a formal determination wasn’t as easy as it seemed and the two-month deadline given by the Congress wasn’t nearly enough. They argued that the process is delicate and very technical asking for more time to consider all the facts. However, it finally seems the decision was made.
The new sanctions are structured in two tranches. The first round will limit Russian exports and financing. In addition to this, the White House is expected to ban the export of sensitive national security goods to Russia - this may include electronic devices and components. Before the sanctions were imposed, Russia could import these things from the US in a case by case basis.
The US has also put in place additional tougher sanctions, but they will not take effect for another three months. During this period, Russia will have the chance to give genuine “assurances” that it won’t use chemical weapons again in the future. If the Kremlin fails to do this, the tougher sanctions will kick in after these three months.