By Matthew Taylor
The Trump Administration sent shockwaves throughout the United States last week when it missed the Jan. 31 deadline to impose a new set of sanctions on foreign firms and governments doing business with Russia’s defense and intelligence sector.
The sanctions were part of a congressional effort to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, a topic which has garnered significant controversy throughout the past two years. The bill in which the sanctions were included, called the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act, passed through Congress by an overwhelming margin (419 to 3 in the house and 98 to 2 in the senate), and was promptly signed by the president.
According to a report by the Chicago Tribune, “the government had until Monday to take two steps under a law passed by Congress last year in the wake of the 2016 presidential campaign. The first required the U.S. to slap sanctions on anyone doing ‘significant’ business with people linked to Russia’s defense and intelligence agencies, using a blacklist the U.S. released in October. The second required the administration to publish a list of Russian ‘political figures and oligarchs’ who have grown rich under President Vladimir Putin.”
Regarding the first requirement, the government decided against penalizing anybody, despite strong evidence that several governments have multi-billion arms deals with the Russians in progress.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert backed up this decision, stating, “We estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions.” She refused to cite any specific examples or evidence.
The administration met the second requirement was met with similar disregard.
According to a report by The Hill, the legislation specifically required the administration to “provide a list of Russian persons and/or entities to be sanctioned for their closeness to the Russian regime as punishment for the aggression in Ukraine and Russia’s incontrovertible intervention in our 2016 elections.”
However, rather than drafting a “list of persons and entities close to President Putin whose sanctioning would present to russia an unmistakable sign of our serious intent,” the Treasury Department simply copied a Russian oligarchs from Forbes, “and thus displayed their ‘compliance’ with the legislation.
What followed was a maelstrom of congressional criticism and blowback from allies in the international community. Both the refusal of the administration to take meaningful action to enforce a law passed by Congress and its reluctance to take threats from Russia seriously has garnered serious concern among both groups.
This all comes as the administration’s relationship with Russia continues to come under close scrutiny. It remains to be seen what action, if any, the administration will take in response to the intense criticism it has faced as a result of these actions.