Trump must be getting really nervous about what Special Counsel Robert Mueller is about to announce, because on the same day that Russian assets plunged after the text of the proposed "crushing sanctions" contemplated by the Senate was leaked, sending the ruble, Russian stocks and bond plunging, moments ago the Trump administration announced it was hitting Russia with new sanctions punishing Putin's government for the March 4 nerve-agent attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the U.K.
While Skripal and his daughter survived the attack attributed to the Russian nerve agent Novichok, a British woman died and her companion became gravely ill after coming in contact with the substance just miles from the site of the March attack.
The State Department said in a statement that under the 1991 Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act, Russia was found to have "used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law or had used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals."
No public evidence confirming Russia's involvement has yet been released, and instead UK and US authorities hope the public will accept the conclusion on faith alone.
As a result, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed off on a determination that Russia violated international law by poisoning Sergei Skripal and his daughter in March. Although the U.S. joined European countries in publicly blaming Moscow within days of the attack, the Trump's administration had never issued the formal determination that triggers automatic sanctions under a decades-old U.S. law on chemical weapons.
This was the second US response to the alleged Russian nerve-gas attack: in March, the US expelled 60 Russian diplomats as part of a joint response with allies to the novichok attack. Russia responded by ordering an equal number of US envoys to leave.
The State Department said the sanctions are expected to take effect around August 22 but didn’t immediately say what they would entail. According to separate press reports, the sanctions would come in two tranches:
- the first tranche of sanctions would ban licenses for export of sensitive national security goods to Russia.
- the second tranche could then downgrade diplomatic relations, suspend Aeroflot's ability to fly to the US and to cut nearly all exports and imports.
The ruble extended its decline on the news, plunging over 3.3% on the day.
As NBC adds, "the decision could bolster President Donald Trump's claim that despite the noise of the Mueller probe that he calls a "witch hunt," his administration has been tough on Moscow in practice and has hit hard when needed."
Actually, scratch the "could": by greenlighting the new sanctions, Trump hopes to endear himself to either Mueller, or the US public, as the US president who has launched wave after wave of crippling Russian sanctions, thereby demonstrating his innocence.
One almost wonders if Trump did not warn Putin about precisely this in the letter he delivered to the Russian president through Rand Paul.