The US Treasury Department was required to submit a report to Congress by Monday that would lay the groundwork for more punitive measures against individuals US authorities believe to be close to Russia’s leadership, including "senior foreign political figures and oligarchs."
The report is required by the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was passed by the US Congress last summer and signed into law by Trump on August 2, 2017.
Sanctions Act Effective
State Department officials told Sputnik, however, that CAATSA was already having an impact on Russia’s military and intelligence sectors.
"Today, we have informed Congress that this legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales," State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said.Since the enactment of CAATSA, Nauert added, Washington estimates that foreign governments have abandoned "planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions."
Another State Department official told Sputnik that because the sanctionshave been so effective, at this time there was not a need to impose any new measures.
"Given the long timeframes generally associated with major defense deals, the results of this effort are only beginning to become apparent," the official said. "From that perspective, if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent."
Starting January 29, the official said, the State Department could begin imposing sanctions under Section 231 of CAATSA for significant transactions with Russian defense or intelligence sectors.
"As you know, we don’t preview our sanctions actions. When and if we have sanctions to announce, we will do so," the official said.The State Department official said the United States was using this legislation to press Russia to address US concerns related to alleged aggression and interference in Ukraine affairs.
"By deterring countries from acquiring Russian military and intelligence equipment we are denying Russia the proceeds from those sales, which it would use to continue its international campaign of malign influence and destabilization," the State Department representative said.
No government agencies or lawmakers had explicitly revealed if the report submitted to Congress identified Russian individuals to be sanctioned.
The official said further details are contained within a classified report the State Department submitted to Congress.
US House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel in a statement accused the Trump administration of choosing to "let Russia off the hook yet again" but tied the issue to Moscow’s alleged interference in US elections.
"The State Department claims that the mere threat of sanctions will deter Russia’s aggressive behavior," Engel said. "How do you deter an attack that happened two years ago, and another that’s already underway? It just doesn’t make sense."US congressman Ted Lieu was also troubled by the Trump administration’s decision.
"As a Member of the Foreign Affairs Cmte, I find the weakness shown by @realDonaldTrump towards Russia to be deeply troubling," Lieu said in a Twitter post on Monday after the decision. "Sanctions law was not just to deter Russia, but to hold it accountable for hacking our democracy. Russia shouldn't get a mulligan."
US Senator Ben Cardin in a statement on Monday said that members of the Trump Administration gave Senate staff a classified briefing on the Russian defense and intelligence sector sanctions as required by CAATSA.
"The administration provided a classified staff briefing today on US diplomatic efforts toward this end and I appreciate the administration’s engagement with Congress on this issue," Cardin said.
Cardin said he would not discuss the classified nature of the discussions but vowed to continue to conduct rigorous oversight to ensure that the Russian government’s ability to conduct this type of trade is impeded."The US should be prepared to impose sanctions when the law is clearly violated," the lawmaker added. "The administration should not rest in these efforts and I expect a frequent and regular dialogue on this issue."
Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said Moscow would not be intimidated by the State Department’s warnings.
"We are trying to explain that the sanctions are a road to nowhere," Antonov told the Rossiya-24 broadcaster. "We will not be intimidated by the sanctions."
On Friday, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions against 21 individuals and 12 entities over their involvement in the situation in Ukraine. Designated individuals, in particular, include Russian Deputy Minister of Energy Andrey Cherezov and Evgeniy Grabchak, the head of the ministry's Department of Operational Control and Management in Electric Power Industry.
Crimea rejoined Russia in 2014 after 97 percent of the peninsula's residents voted in a referendum in favor of the move. However, Kiev and many Western countries, including the EU member states and the United States, refused to recognize the referendum and subsequently imposed economic and political sanctions on Russia. Russia has repeatedly said that the referendum was held in compliance with international law and denied threatening or affecting the sovereignty of Ukraine.