On August 8, 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the U.S. is imposing sanctions against Russia under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Act.
The sanctions are based on the findings of the British government that Russia is to blame for the attempted poisoning of Sergei V. Skripal, a British citizen, and his daughter Yulia, mainly because of the strain of nerve agents known as Novichok that is allegedly kept under tight control in Russia.
In particular, Pompeo said the U.S. government has determined the Russian government has used chemical or biological weapons against international law or against their nationals, which is a triggering fact under the CBW Act for the imposition of mandatory sanctions. The State Department notified Congress that the Executive Branch intends to impose sanctions against Russia in a number of respects. There will be a presumption of denial for all national security sensitive goods or technologies that the Department of Commerce controls pursuant to the Export Administration Regulations. These goods are currently subject to a license – a case-by-case license determination. In the future Commerce will presumptively deny all such goods or technologies.
State anticipates there will be a Federal Register notice on approximately August 22, 2018.
Pompeo announced several carve outs: a waiver for the provision of foreign assistance to Russia and to the Russian people; one with respect to space flight activities in which the U.S. is engaged with Russia; one for safety of commercial passenger aviation; and a couple of more for things like purely commercial end users for civilian end uses on a case-by-case base.
Rather than under that presumption of denial, an export license will also be issued with respect to Russian nationals that work with these sorts of goods while employed by firms in the U.S. as opposed to elsewhere, as well as exports to wholly-owned subsidiaries of U.S. companies and other foreign companies in Russia.
Pompeo explained that under the CBW Act the U.S. executive branch must certify that Russia has met a series of criteria are met within 90 days from the initial sanctions, including that Russia is no longer using chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law, or using lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals , that Russia has provided reliable assurances that it will not in the future engage in such activities, and that Russia is willing to permit on-site inspections by UN observers or other internationally recognized impartial observers, or other reliable means exist to ensure that the government is not using chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law, etc. If the U.S. cannot certify the fulfillment of these criteria, it will impose a second tranche of sanctions.
If those conditions are not met, the President, after consultation with the Congress, shall impose on Russia at least three of the following sanctions: oppose he extension of any loan or financial or technical assistance to that country by international financial institutions; prohibit any U.S. bank from making any loan or providing any credit to the government of that country, except for loans or credits for the purpose of purchasing food or other agricultural commodities or products; prohibit exports to that country of all other goods and technology (excluding food and other agricultural commodities and products); restrict the importation into the U.S. of articles (which may include petroleum or any petroleum product) that are the growth, product, or manufacture of that country; downgrade or suspend diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Russia; and suspend the authority of foreign air carriers owned or controlled by the government of that country to engage in foreign air transportation to or from the U.S.
On August 8, Russia’s currency fell on news of the sanctions, which Russia characterized as “illegal” and “draconian.”
Russia is unlikely to comply with the U.S. criteria that would forestall the second tranche of sanctions, especially since the Russian government has vehemently denied responsibility for the attacks.
Meanwhile, the White House is preparing an 8-page executive order that would authorize President Trump to sanction foreigners who interfere in U.S. elections. The draft order appears to be an effort to avoid aggressive legislation, including a bill introduced in Congress to overcome criticism that Trump believes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials of interference with the U.S. election.
On August 8, 2018, the Russian newspaper Kommersant published a full draft of the proposed “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act.” The bill would impose a ban on U.S. citizens buying Russian sovereign debt, require a U.S. investigation into and report on Vladimir Putin’s personal wealth, would sanction transactions related to investment in energy projects supported by Russian state-owned or parastatal entities, and require disclosure of high-end U.S. real estate deals.
Since Congress is not in session, the bill will be debated in September when Congress returns. It seems likely that the bill will become law, although in some modified form. The prospects for U.S.-Russian relations do not look propitious in the near term.
The current issue of the IELR will carry a more comprehensive article on the developments.