US to impose sanctions on Russia over Novichok use

The penalties follow a nerve agent attack in March against Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia

Photo: EPA Army officers remove the bench, where Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found comatose.

The US will impose more sanctions on Russia under a chemical and biological warfare law after determining it used nerve agent against a former Russian double agent and his daughter in Britain earlier this year. In a brief statement the US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert revealed the Trump administration had made this decision on Monday, and accused Russia of violating international law.

According to the information available at the moment the fresh sanctions would be structured in two tranches and go into effect around 22 August in line with the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991. A senior State Department official warned that the first tranche of the sanctions could impact "potentially a very great sweep of the Russian economy," adding that firms affected account for 70 percent of the Russian economy and 40 percent of its workforce, since the law requires the president to terminate arms sales, deny US credit and prohibit the export of sensitive technology to any country using chemical or biological weapons.

If Russia refuses to take certain steps, such as providing “reliable” evidence that it is no longer using chemical/ biological weapons and allowing on-site UN chemical inspections, a second set of penalties - far more stringent than this first round - will follow three months later.

Dmitry Polyanskiy, first deputy permanent representative of Russia to the UN, dismissed the sanctions in a tweet on Wednesday responding to the news. "The theater of absurd continues. No proofs, no clues, no logic, no presumption of innocense, just highly-liklies. Only one rule: blame everything on Russia, no matter how absurd and fake it is. Let us welcome the United Sanctions of America!" Polyanskiy tweeted.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom welcomed the move from the US, saying "The strong international response to the use of a chemical weapon on the streets of Salisbury sends an unequivocal message to Russia that its provocative, reckless behaviour will not go unchallenged."

Sanctions under this 1991 law have been applied on previous occasions against Syria for its 2013 use of chemical weapons and against North Korea for its use of VX nerve agent in a Malaysian airport during the assassination of Kim Jong Un's half brother. As Europost reminds,the sanctions follow a nerve agent attack in March against an ex-double agent and his daughter. 

Sergej Skripal was a double agent, working for years with Russian intelligence while secretly passing information to British authorities. He was convicted of espionage in Russia but released in a 2010 prisoner exchange and has lived in the UK since then. In early March, he and his daughter Yulia, who was visiting from Russia, were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, Wiltshire, in southern England.

British authorities later determined they they have been victims of an the attack, carried out using Novichok - a nerve agent developed in Russia during the Cold War. Even though both have been released from hospital months after the poisoning, the case caused new low in the relations between Russia and the West. More than 20 countries expelled Russian envoys in solidarity with the UK, including the US. Washington ordered 60 diplomats to leave and closed the Russian consulate general in Seattle.

Last month, just when tensions have finally subsided, a British couple - Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley - also came in contact with Novichok in the same general area where the Skripals were poisoned, with Sturgess later dying. 

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