The White House has backtracked on a report it is rolling back sanctions on Russia's Federal Security Service, the successor agency to the KGB, after the Treasury Department announced an amendment to put measures in place by former President Obama in response to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The FSB was one of several entities sanctioned by Obama in December related to Russian hacking of Democratic political organizations and operatives. The FSB must also approve certain technology imports to Russia per domestic law.
“We’re not easing sanctions,” press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters, arguing that it’s “common for Treasury after sanctions are put in place to go back and look at specific carve-outs for different industries or products and services. “It is a regular course of action that Treasury does often when sanctions are imposed.”
Trump himself was quoted moments ago as saying "I haven't eased anything on Russia."
As reported previously, the Treasury Department earlier in the day amended Obama’s additional Russian sanctions to allow United States technology companies to export products to Russia. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) clarified that American tech companies can seek licenses from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) to export their goods to Russia, so long as the products aren’t used in Crimea or violate pre-existing sanctions.
The move was widely interpreted as President Trump relaxing sanctions on Russia. But foreign policy experts cited by The Hill insisted that the OFAC’s amendment was likely meant to clean up unintended consequences on American tech companies.
“This isn't Trump weakening sanctions,” said Eric Lorber, sanctions consultant at Financial Integrity Network, on Twitter. “Unintended consequences popped up, OFAC dealt with them.”
Having popped in earlier trading, Russian ETFs and stocks have since pared gains on the update.