President Donald Trump reluctantly approved new sanctions against Russia on August 2 after Congress sent him a bill with strong bipartisan backing, but the administration still hasn’t implemented them.
What these sanctions are about:
The sanctions are meant to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 US election, its human rights violations, its annexation of Crimea and its military operations in eastern Ukraine. The bill also covers sanctions against Iran and North Korea.
The back story:
The bill was one of the first pieces of major legislation Congress sent Trump, and it served as a slap on the wrist: lawmakers gave themselves a new veto power to block the President from removing sanctions on Russia. US intelligence agencies had said it was their consensus view that Moscow attempted to interfere in the election, but Trump refused to acknowledge the possibility and urged a better US relationship with Russia. That made people uneasy.
Trump blasted the bill as he signed it, issuing a statement that said it was, “seriously flawed – particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate.”
So why haven’t sanctions been announced yet?
The administration missed its first deadline on October 1 to issue guidance on which Russian entities in the military and intelligence sectors should be subject to sanctions. The State Department was almost a month late on that – perhaps because Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had eliminated the office that oversees sanctions and moved all that work to the deputy director in his policy planning bureau – but they finally named names on October 26.
Their next deadline is January 29, 2018 when the administration should have come out with the businesses and enterprises from various countries that have continued to do business with those Russian entities and which will face sanctions as a result.
The administration is still on schedule, but it’s taking a while, and critics are watching closely.
What do critics say about the delay?
On the Hill, Democrats say they’re concerned that implementation is taking so long that the Russian entities could have time to create new subsidiaries that fly under the sanctions radar. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Thursday that they’ll be watching the administration’s “implementation of the Russian sanction law that requires reports as early as next month, and we will be watching very closely to make sure they comply with the laws that we have passed.”
What does the administration say about the delay?
The sanctions legislation “is the law of the land and we are working to implement it,” a State Department official told CNN. “It is a complex piece of legislation and we proceeded with all due diligence. We received and considered input from a wide range of interlocutors – foreign governments, industry associations, and individual companies – as we formulated guidance for these sections. We will work with our allies and partners in the implementation of these sanctions in order to impose costs on the Russian government, while seeking to avoid unforeseen negative impacts on others.”
Tillerson has said sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns Crimea to Ukraine.
The sanctions target people and entities that:
– undermine US cybersecurity on behalf of the Russia government
– invest certain amounts in Russia’s energy export pipelines
– conduct “significant” transactions with Russian defense and intelligence agencies
– commit, or assist in, serious human rights abuses
– commit acts of “significant” corruption
– provide support to the Syrian government to acquire arms
– invest, or facilitate the investment of, $10 million or more in the Russian government’s privatization of any state owned asset in a one year period that could unfairly benefit government officials or their associates.
The bill lists 12 types of sanctions that can be imposed and requires the President to use at least five in many cases against those affected. They can include freezing assets, such as property, revoking US visas, and banning US exports to those sanctioned.
Was there fallout after Trump signed the legislation?
Moscow blasted the bill and then told the US it had to reduce the size of its diplomatic staff by 755 as well as banning it from using two properties. The US retaliated by telling Russia it had to close its San Francisco consulate and annexes in Washington and New York. All that meant Trump’s hopes for a warmer US-Russia relationship will have to wait.
All eyes are on the administration’s January 29 deadline to announce sanctions.
CNN’s Angela Dewan and Jeremy Herb contributed to this report