US hits Russia with sanctions in poison claim
The Trump administration has announced new sanctions against Russia over the poisoning of a former British spy after months of discussion about how to respond to the March attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
Downing Street last night welcomed the news, stating: "The strong international response to the use of a chemical weapon on the streets of Salisbury sends an unequivocal message to Russia that its provocative, reckless behaviour will not go unchallenged."
Although the US joined European countries in publicly blaming Moscow within days of the attack, the Trump administration never issued a formal triggering of sanctions under its decades-old US law on chemical weapons.
But the declaration brings into effect sanctions limiting exports to Russia and the financing of deals.
The biggest impact is expected to come from a ban on granting licences to export sensitive national security goods to Russia, which have included electronic devices and components, along with test and calibration equipment for avionics.
The new prohibitions, which come into effect on August 22, could cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in future exports to Russia. A second, more painful round will kick in three months later unless Russia provides "reliable assurances" that it will not use chemical weapons in the future and agrees to "on-site inspections" by the UN - conditions unlikely to be accepted. This could include downgrading diplomatic relations, suspending state airline Aeroflot flights to the US, and cutting off nearly all exports and imports. Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, said Russia had violated international law by using a chemical weapon.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, accused Britain of making baseless accusations over the poisonings and suggested they were driven by domestic issues in the UK.
Yesterday's announcement comes months after Congress made a formal request for Mr Trump to determine that Russia had violated international law.
Officials explained that the delay came about because the administration always took time to examine the evidence before coming to a decision.
"We are tough on Russia, and at the same time we are committed to maintaining relations because there are important things at stake here," a senior state department official said. "This has been our position all along."
The US already has sanctions in place against Russia, in retaliation for its annexation of Crimea and allegations of interference in the 2016 election.
The sanctions came as an eagerly-watched contest for a previously safe Republican seat in the US congress went to the wire, leading to speculation that voters were turning against Donald Trump and could punish the Republican Party at mid-term elections.
Troy Balderson, the Republican candidate in the traditionally conservative 12th district of Ohio, was less than a point ahead of Danny O'Connor, his Democrat rival, with some votes still to count last night.
Meanwhile, a host of celebrities have used Instagram to urge Ivanka Trump to act over the "inhumane" separation of migrant families at the US border.
Famous figures posted the same Dear Ivanka message on the social network, demanding Mr Trump's daughter calls for the resignation of homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Comedian Amy Schumer, model and TV presenter Alexa Chung and Girlboss founder Sophia Amoruso, who are all followed by Ms Trump on Instagram, were among those who made contact.
Since then, scores of other people have posted the message and tagged Ms Trump, who is a senior adviser to her father but does not have a special role regarding immigration. (© Daily Telegraph London)