On August 8th, US State Department announced new sanctions against Russia over its alleged involvement into the Skripal Case.
“Following the use of a “Novichok” nerve agent in an attempt to assassinate UK citizen Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal, the United States, on August 6, 2018, determined under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act) that the Government of the Russian Federation has used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law or has used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals. Following a 15-day Congressional notification period, these sanctions will take effect upon publication of a notice in the Federal Register, expected on or around August 22, 2018,” said the statement posted on the US State Department’s website on August 8th.
On the same day, State Department speaker Heather Nauert, announced that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed off on a determination that Russia violated international law by poisoning the Skripals in March.
The UK government welcomed the decision, as confirmed by the statement of a spokesman for the Foreign Office. “The UK welcomes this further action by our US allies. The strong international response to the use of a chemical weapon on the streets of Salisbury sends an unequivocal message to Russia that its provocative, reckless behavior will not go unchallenged,” were his words.
The sanctions are structured in two tranches, laid out in a 1991 law, the Chemical and Biological Weapons and Warfare Elimination Act. An initial, immediate round limits exports and financing but may have limited impact, because it largely overlaps with other restrictions already in place, such as on selling arms to Russia. The biggest impact from the initial sanctions is expected to come from a ban on granting licenses to export sensitive national security goods to Russia, which in the past have included items like electronic devices and components, along with test and calibration equipment for avionics. Before the sanctions, such exports were allowed on a case-by-case basis. These new sanctions may lead to a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in future exports to Russia.
The second tranche of the sanctions come into effect three months later, unless Russia provides “reliable assurances that it will not in the future engage in any such activities” and agrees on “on-site inspections” by the UN. These sanctions may include downgrading diplomatic relations, suspending the state airline Aeroflot’s ability to fly to the United States and cutting off nearly all exports and imports.
In response the Russian Embassy in the US issued a statement referring to the measures as “draconian” and based on “far-fetched accusations,” further pointing out that its numerous calls for facts or evidence have gone unanswered.
Dimitry Polyansiy, Moscow’s permanent representative to the UN called the sanctions a “theater of absurd.” Saying that there is “Only one rule: blame everything on Russia, no matter how absurd and fake it is.”
On March 4th, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench near Maltings Shopping Center in Salisbury. It was discovered that they suffered the effects of the Novichok nerve agent. London still that the Novichok-class toxin had been developed in Russia. on June 30, two other people were found unconscious in the UK city of Amesbury, near Salisbury. According to UK officials, both Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley were exposed to the same nerve agent that the Skripals had come into contact with. The UK rushed to accuse Russia of being involved failing to furnish any evidence. Russia has been adamant in denying that it played any role in either poisoning.
On March 14th, after the Skripal poisoning, Theresa May announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from the country. She justified her decision by saying it was “highly likely” the mysterious poisoning had been carried out by Russia, in part because the substance used to poison the pair had been identified as Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union.
Also, in March, following the move by the UK, the Trump administration ordered 60 Russian diplomats – all of whom were accused of being spies – to leave the US and closed down the Russian consulate in Seattle in response to the Skripal case.
Various EU countries, Ukraine and other countries have expelled Russian diplomats. The EU expelled 35 Russian diplomats. The Ukraine – 13. Other countries expelled 15, whereas NATO expelled 7.
The decision to impose the sanctions may reinforce Trump’s claim that his administration has been tough on Moscow in practice. Despite special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian election meddling, which Trump has called a “witch hunt.” However, Donald Trump still had to be pushed by Congress to unleash the sanctions after going more than a month past the statutory deadline he was given. The government had two months after a formal congressional request in March for Trump to determine whether Russia had violated international law. At the end of July Trump was called out by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif, as reported by NBC news.
Russia has also threatened with counter-sanctions ever since the threat of new sanctions was presented. It has, however, also expelled foreign diplomats – 60 from the US, 73 from the UK, 33 from various EU countries. They further expelled 13 diplomats from the Ukraine and 10 in total from Moldova, Norway, Canada and Austria.