President Donald Trump slapped new sanctions on Russia for its poisoning of an ex-spy in the United Kingdom in 2018, a move that combines months of delay from the Trump administration and mounting pressure from Congress for the President to act.
Russian agents were accused of using a banned nerve agent to carry out the March 2018 attack against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, on British soil— which the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.
Trump, who signed the executive order Thursday, has been reluctant to impose sanctions against Russia in his efforts to improve relations between Washington and Moscow. Last year, the Trump administration was slow to enact sanctions punishing Russia for interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
Once the US determined Russia was behind Skripal’s poisoning, the US responded with a first round of sanctions in August 2018 on certain technology under a chemical and biological warfare law. The US also expelled 60 Russian diplomats and closed a Russian consulate.
Russia was then expected within 90 days to certify to the US that it was no longer using chemical weapons, and allow inspectors to prove it — or face a more stringent set of sanctions, under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991.
When after the State Department announced in early November 2018 that Russia had failed to meet these terms, no new penalties were imposed.
Rather, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at the time that they were “consulting with Congress regarding next steps as required 90 days after the initial determination on August 6, 2018.” In February, CNN reported that the State Department had not been consulting with Congress as promised.
Frustrations around the Skripal inaction and the administration’s soft handed approach to Russia came to a head in mid-February with a bipartisan group of senators introducing a massive bill aimed at countering Russian malfeasance.
Pressure for the Trump administration to impose sanctions came this week as the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s top Democrat and Republican on Monday sent a letter to Trump demanding the administration meet its congressionally-mandated obligations.
The CBW Act of 1991 “mandated the second round of sanctions to be imposed within three months, yet well over a year has passed since the attack,” Reps. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, and Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, wrote. “Therefore, we urge you to take immediate action to hold Russia fully accountable for its blatant use of a chemical weapon in Europe.”
They added that a failure to do so “is unacceptable and would necessitate that Congress take corrective action.”
Trump told reporters Thursday that he had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin about ways to improve trade and wildfires blazing in Siberia.
He made no mention of either the new sanctions or whether they came up during the phone call.