Mandatory Sanctions Imposed on Russia After State Dept. Confirms Chemical Weapons Use in UK

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the BRICS leaders summit July 27, 2018, in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Dmitry Azarov/Kommersant/Sipa USA via AP Images)

WASHINGTON — Nearly two weeks after the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee asked why the administration was AWOL on Russia’s use of a deadly nerve agent on British soil, and less than a week after a group of senators introduced a package of crushing sanctions on the Kremlin, the State Department announced that mandatory sanctions for chemical weapons use will go into effect.

British police reporteldy have identified multiple Russian suspects who left the country after the poisonings of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in March in Salisbury, England, along with a police officer who responded to the scene. Three months later, Charlie Rowley of Amesbury, England, found a sealed, boxed bottle of perfume and gave it to his girlfriend Dawn Sturgess, who died after spraying the Novichok within on her wrists. All of the other victims have been released from hospitals. Authorities say they have linked the two batches of the deadly nerve agent.

Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) wrote to President Trump on July 26 that enforcement of the Chemical and Biological Weapons and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 in Russia’s UK Novichok attack “is critical to deterring additional attacks.”

Royce originally requested a determination March 15 on Russia involvement, which was necessary to start the punitive sanctions. The Trump administration had 60 days, under law, to report their findings back to the committee, but by the June letter Congress had heard nothing.

Royce set a new deadline of Aug. 9 for the administration to report back to the committee with a determination.

State Department press secretary Heather Nauert said in a statement today that “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,” she said.

Elaborating in a briefing today, a State Department official said the most significant sanction is “the imposition of a presumption of denial for all national security sensitive goods or technologies that are controlled by the Department of Commerce pursuant to the Export Administration Regulations.”

“There are a number of carve-outs that we are making under the sanctions that are required by the act. Not everything that is mandatory under the act we will be proceeding with at this time. The carve-outs will include a – we will have a waiver for the provision of foreign assistance to Russia and to the Russian people. Our provision of foreign assistance is a tool of U.S. power and influence, and we’re not going to foreswear that just because we have the obligation to impose some sanctions against Russia. So that is going to be a carve-out under this – under these new sanctions,” the official added.

“We are also waiving sanctions with respect to space flight activities, because of course there are space flight actions in which we are engaged with the Russian Federation upon which we depend in some regards. Those will be free to continue on a case-by-case licensing basis. And we are also having a carve-out for safety of commercial passenger aviation because some of these national security sensitive goods in question are ones that perhaps might be important for safety of flight issues, so we are allowing ourselves the ability to continue on a case-by-case basis with those items. And there are a couple of more things like purely commercial end users for civilian end uses will be on a case-by-case basis.”

Russia was informed this afternoon, the official said before adding he couldn’t elaborate on the communications with the Kremlin.