Let me tell you what the Russian ruble did not need on Wednesday: The currency, already nursing steep losses tied to jitters about sweeping legislation proposed by Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, did not need the State Department to announce the imposition of sanctions tied to the Skripal case.
But when it rains it pours, and as it turns out, trying to assassinate folks with nerve agents on foreign soil is a violation of international law – who knew, right? So, starting on August 22, the U.S. will impose fresh sanctions on Russia in retaliation for the use of Novichok in the U.K. Here’s the statement:
On the heels of the announcement, the ruble took a fresh leg lower after falling sharply earlier in the day after Russian media published the text of proposed legislation that seeks to target Russian sovereign debt, the so-called “nuclear option”.
This marks the most definitive statement yet from the U.S. with regard to Moscow’s culpability in the Skripal case, and is likely to be met with extreme hostility from the Kremlin. As NBC reminds you, “the U.S. joined European countries in publicly blaming Moscow within days of the attack, [but] Trump’s administration had never issued the formal determination that triggers automatic sanctions under a decades-old U.S. law on chemical weapons.”
The White House drug its feet for so long on the issue that House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce wrote Trump a letter on July 26 essentially asking what was taking so long.
“On March 15, 2018, after consulting with my Ranking Member, I submitted to you a request for a determination regarding whether the Russian Government violated the Chemical and Biological Weapons and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 in connection with the recent poisoning of British citizen Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia,” Royce wrote, before continuing as follows:
Pursuant to section 306(b) of that law, your findings were due to the Committee within 60 days. Ninety-three days have no passed since my request, yet we have not received the statutorily required determination.
You can read the full letter to the President embedded below and as you’ll invariably surmise, Royce was not at all pleased with Trump’s apparently deliberate effort to sidestep the issue. One is certainly left to believe that the Helsinki debacle prompted Royce to push the envelope, going so far as to give Trump a deadline for responding. That deadline: “No later than 12:00 p.m. on Thursday, August 9”. So, tomorrow.
Although the State Department claims Mike Pompeo made the call on August 6, the White House clearly waited until the very last minute on this. I can’t imagine why, can you?
NBC, in the same article linked above, goes on to explain what this means for 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. That new prohibition could cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in future exports to Russia [and] a second, more painful round kicks in three months later unless Russia provides “reliable assurances” it won’t use chemical weapons in the future and agrees to “on-site inspections” by the U.N. – conditions unlikely to be met.
The second round of sanctions could include downgrading diplomatic relations, suspending state airline Aeroflot’s ability to fly to the U.S, and cutting off nearly all exports and imports.
Again, this comes on top of worries about how much traction the Graham/ Menendez bill will get on Capitol Hill. You can read the full account of that in “‘The April Selloff Could Repeat’: Russian Ruble Dives As Market Wakes Up To ‘Drastic’ U.S. Sanctions Bill.”
Of course the White House will point to the new sanctions as evidence that Trump isn’t beholden to the Kremlin, but the letter you’ll read below quite clearly indicates that Congress had reached wit’s end with the President’s apparent unwillingness to address this in a timely manner.
Draw your own conclusions.
From the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman to the President