The State Department announced on Wednesday that the United States will be sanctioning Russia over its use of chemical weapons in the case of the alleged attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in the United Kingdom in March.
A statement put out by State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert read, "Following the use of a 'Novichok' nerve agent in an attempt to assassinate UK citizen Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal, the United States, on August 6, 2018, determined under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act) that the Government of the Russian Federation has used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law or has used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals.
"Following a 15-day Congressional notification period, these sanctions will take effect upon publication of a notice in the Federal Register, expected on or around August 22, 2018."
In a subsequent background call with reporters, two senior State Department officials shared that the most significant implication is the presumption of denial in the case of national security sensitive goods. While applications for the export of such goods from the United States to Russia are currently dealt with on a case by case basis, they will now be presumptively denied, with some exceptions — most notably for goods related to space, one of the final frontiers of US-Russia cooperation.
The US will consider additional sanctions, the officials said, if Russia doesn't offer "reliable assurances nothing like this will happen again."
The officials said they could not say what impact the new sanctions will have. "If they don't apply for exports of these goods, we don't have to use presumption of denial to deny it," one official said.
The sanctions apply to all state-owned and state-funded enterprises, which could mean up to roughly 70 percent of the Russian economy.
Previously, the United States expelled 60 diplomats over the Skripal case. Asked why these sanctions are only being put in place now, the officials said, "These things are intrinsically complicated and hard... We took our time to do our homework right." They also noted that they missed their deadline when imposing sanctions against Syria and North Korea, too.
The United States informed Russia of the new sanctions Wednesday afternoon. In a statement released early Thursday, the Russian embassy in Washington described them as "draconian".
"The American side refused to answer our follow-up questions, claiming that the information is classified. However, we were told that the US has enough intel to conclude that 'Russia is to blame'," the statement said.
"For our part, we reiterated our principle stands on the events in the UK, which the Embassy had been outlining in corresponding letters to the State Department. We confirmed that we continue to strongly stand for an open and transparent investigation of the crime committed in Salisbury and for bringing the culprits to justice.
The embassy said it had suggested that both sides release their correspondence on the matter, but had not had a response to this from the US.
However the US move was warmly welcomed by the UK. Recently appointed foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted: "Thank you USA for standing firm with us on this."
Peter Harrell, who worked on sanctions in the State Department in the Obama administration, told BuzzFeed News: "It is heartening to see that the Trump Administration made the determination that Russia had used chemical weapons."
Harrell, now an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, added: "I'd note that the law required the Administration to do that within 60 days of receiving 'credible information' that chemical weapons have been used, and the UK had already blamed Russia for the chemical weapons attack on Skirpal earlier this year."
Meanwhile, in Russia, the ruble was in free fall over sanctions — but not the ones announced on Wednesday. The ruble headed toward a two-year low after Russian outlet Kommersant published the draft of a Senate bill that would, among other things, impose sanctions against Russia.