Looks Like Trump Won’t Be Imposing New Sanctions On Russia After All

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The Trump administration said the mere threat of sanctions, instead of actual sanctions, was "serving as a deterrent."

Months after Congress overwhelmingly passed a sanctions bill meant to punish Russia for its alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election, the Trump administration announced the United States will not impose penalties against companies and foreign entities that conduct business with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors.

“Today, we have informed Congress that this legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “Since the enactment of the ... legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions.”

Last year, the Senate voted 98-2 to approve the bill that allowed Congress to block any attempt to lift or alleviate sanctions against the Kremlin, to punish those who purchase military equipment from Russia as well as implored the administration to produce a list of oligarchs maintaining close ties to President Vladimir Putin.

At the time, President Donald Trump declared the bill "seriously flawed." However, he reluctantly signed it into law.

However, as the deadline finally arrived amid speculation if the White House would actually dare to upset Russia given the warm relationship between Trump and Putin, the State Department released a statement claiming the threat of facing sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) was already “serving as a deterrent.”

 

The department said the sanctions, if imposed, would affect Russia’s defense partners. Therefore, it was better to wait. 

“Given the long timeframes generally associated with major defense deals, the results of this effort are only beginning to become apparent,” Nauert continued. “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.”

Needless to say, the move sparked severe backlash among lawmakers.

“The State Department claims that the mere threat of sanctions will deter Russia’s aggressive behavior,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. “How do you deter an attack that happened two years ago, and another that’s already underway? It just doesn’t make sense. I’m fed up waiting for this administration to protect our country and our elections.”

Meanwhile, shortly before the deadline, the Treasury Department released an unclassified list of 96 prominent Russian oligarchs and 114 senior foreign political figures with ties to Putin. However, none of the people mentioned on the list would face any penalties as it was “not a sanctions list.”

The Treasury Department said the list was “based on objective criteria drawn from publicly available sources”  included senior Cabinet members and political leaders — including the leaders of the State Duma and Federation Council — with a net worth of $1 billion or more.

“This is another step, which, obviously, leads to further escalation of tensions,” said Aleksey Chepa, deputy chairman of the State Duma's international affairs committee. “While it is too early to talk about this, but if the situation escalates further it can lead to this. The American leadership itself does not see the consequences of these actions, they jeopardize relations in the world between countries, and this can have very, very serious consequences.”

However, some Republican lawmakers — including those who helped craft the sanctions bill — believe the Trump administration will implement the law when it’s needed.

“This is when sanctions season begins, and so they’ll be rolling them out,” Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters. “We feel pretty good about the process. They’re rushing the information over to us today, and by the close of business, they’re going to have two of the three, as I understand it. So they’re taking it very seriously.”

The White House’s decision to not impose the sanctions comes at a time when special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged ties between Trump campaign and Russian operatives seem to be gaining steam.

 

 

 

 

Thumbnail/Banner: Reuters, Jonathan Ernst

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