White House declines to impose new Russia sanctions passed by Congress

On Monday, the Trump administration rebuffed calls from Congress for the White House to apply further sanctions on Russia.

Crafted in July 2017 and approved with overwhelming support from both parties in Congress, the bill in question levied penalties on Russian entities which were known to be engaged in business dealings with Kremlin intelligence and defense industries.

Sanctions legislation sought specifically to punish Russia for its actions in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria, and allegedly interfering in the U.S. presidential election. President Trump signed the bill, which also targeted North Korea and Iran, in early August 2017.

Under the terms of the legislation, the White House had the option to impose further sanctions if no evidence existed targeted entities had reduced business dealings with actors in Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors.

Explaining the administration’s position in an email, a State Department spokesman wrote:

“Given the long time frames 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 refusal to rely on existing sanctions was unwelcome news for Democrats.  Responding to the White House’s decision against imposing further penalties rankled Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

“The U.S. should be prepared to impose sanctions when the law is clearly violated.  The administration should not rest in these efforts and I expect a frequent and regular dialogue on this issue,” Cardin said in a statement.

Monday’s development follows a week after CIA Director Mike Pompeo and DNI Dan Coats met with Russian spy agency chief, Sergey Naryshkin, separately at their respective northern Virginia headquarters. Naryshkin’s mere presence violates sanctions imposed against the Kremlin in 2014 for the annexation of Crimea, which bar certain Moscow officials from entering the U.S.

The refusal to hit the Kremlin with further punishments did not occur without a fallback.  In a narrow gesture to punish Russia, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin unveiled a list which includes 114 Russian political figures and 96 oligarchs of which were determined to be potential targets for sanctions.

Members of the list include:  Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and oligarchs Oleg Deripaska, Roman Abramovich, and Aleksei Mordashov.  Treasury’s list did not reveal specific penalties for any individual.

Responding to the news of the list of Russian individuals, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed it as “stupid” and “hostile,” but stated the Kremlin would not respond to further potential sanctions.


Editor’s note: This article has been updated since its original publication.


[Politico] [New York Times] [BBC] [Reuters] [AP] [Photo courtesy Getty Images via The Independent]