US to impose sanctions on Russia over nerve attack in UK
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US to impose sanctions on Russia over nerve attack in UK

Washington: The United States said on Wednesday it had determined that the Russian government had used a nerve agent in the attack against a former Russian agent and his daughter in Britain and would soon impose sanctions against Moscow.

"The United States ... 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," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Poisoned: Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia Skripal, 33.

Poisoned: Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia Skripal, 33.

Photo: AP

International monitors already had blamed Russia for the attempted assassination in Britain of Sergei Skripal and his adult daughter, Yulia, in March.

She said sanctions would take effect on or around August 22. They are structured to fall in two halves.

The first part includes a prohibition of licences on sending national security and "sensitive" equipment, goods, electronics and technologies that Moscow seeks to import from the US.

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It could hit as much as 70 per cent of Russia's state-run economy and 40 per cent of its workforce, said one of the officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity in keeping with State Department rules.

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands in Helsinki, Finland, on July 11.

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands in Helsinki, Finland, on July 11.

Photo: AP

But if Russia does not agree to stop using chemical and biological weapons within 90 days and agree to let UN monitors conduct inspections, a second, more punishing round of sanctions kicks in. It would cut off almost all trade between the two countries, and could include the suspension of Aeroflot flights into the United States.

International monitors already had blamed Russia for the attempted assassination of the Skripals in March.

At that time, several countries took diplomatic action against Moscow, including the US, which expelled 60 Russian diplomats.

Russia has denied any role in the attack.

The determination - which Congress had been pushing the Trump administration to make since March - triggers the mandatory sanctions under a 1991 US law.

After the White House missed a two-month deadline to take action, Republican Ed Royce, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a second letter two weeks ago, pressing the president to act.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce.

Photo: AP

Critics say the administration's slow response was another example of Trump's reluctance to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On Wednesday, Royce praised the new sanctions.

"The administration is rightly acting to uphold international bans on the use of chemical weapons," Royce said in a statement. "The mandatory sanctions that follow this determination are key to increasing pressure on Russia. Vladimir Putin must know that we will not tolerate his deadly acts, or his ongoing attacks on our democratic process."

Administration officials downplayed the delay in imposing the sanctions, saying it was because of the complicated nature of the measures. They noted that in previous applications of the same law - against Syria and North Korea - deadlines also were missed.

The officials also sought to dispel any idea that Trump dragged his feet or that there were internal disputes over whether to impose additional sanctions.

"This is not about different bits of the administration going in different directions," the official said.

Trump also delayed enacting an earlier package of sanctions ordered by Congress to punish Moscow for its interference in the 2016 US election and continued meddling.

The State official said the sanctions could affect a "very great sweep" of the Russian economy, but the new order would contain "carve-outs", or exceptions to the sanctions, including space programs and foreign aid.

Reuters, LA Times