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State Department Officials Impose More Sanctions On Russia


All right. The U.S. State Department is imposing more sanctions on Russia. This is to punish Moscow for allegedly using a chemical agent against a former Russian spy and his daughter, an attack that happened on British soil. Russian officials have called these sanctions unlawful, and they said they were looking into ways to retaliate. All this could affect hundreds of millions of dollars in trade, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The new sanctions will take effect later this month when they're published in the Federal Register, but the outlines are already clear. The Chemical and Biological Weapons Act requires the U.S. to cut foreign assistance, arms sales and the export of sensitive items to a country that uses chemical weapons. And the Trump administration determined earlier this year that Russia did just that, attacking an ex-spy and his daughter with a nerve agent in the U.K. British Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed the news of the U.S. sanctions and so do many Russia watchers in Washington.

A longtime U.S. diplomat who worked on sanctions policy, Daniel Fried, says the administration has been working under the radar on other sanctions, too.

DANIEL FRIED: What's interesting is that the professional level of the administration and even, occasionally, the principals are conducting one policy while the president of the United States seems to be conducting another. And it's just weird. I've never seen the like.

KELEMEN: Even as the State Department was announcing sanctions, Senator Rand Paul was in Moscow giving Russian President Vladimir Putin a letter from Donald Trump. Fried, now with the think tank the Atlantic Council, says that perfectly illustrates what he calls the strange disconnect in policy toward Russia.

FRIED: So if you're the Russians, you probably have trouble figuring out whether these sanctions represent the president's view or the view of the administration without the president. What does that mean? So puzzling.

KELEMEN: Russia has repeatedly denied involvement in the assassination attempt against Sergei Skripal and his daughter. The State Department is warning that there will be more sanctions to come if Russia doesn't allow international inspectors to investigate. There are carveouts for the sanctions going into force this month to allow the State Department to continue to fund humanitarian and civil society groups in Russia and to support cooperation in space. But even with those waivers, officials expect the sanctions could affect hundreds of millions of dollars in trade with Russia.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRECKLE AND PETE'S "FRY DAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.