The Trump administration told Congress on Monday that bipartisan legislation passed last year authorizing new sanctions on Russia is already “serving as a deterrent,” and there’s no need to actually implement the penalties at this time.
A spokesperson for the State Department said the mere possibility of facing sanctions through the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) has served as an effective countermeasure.
“Given the long timeframes generally associated with major defense deals, the results of this effort are only beginning to become apparent. From that perspective, if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent,” the spokesperson said.
The 2017 legislation allows President Trump to postpone imposing sanctions on people or entities if he determines they are largely scaling back their transactions with Russia’s defense or intelligence sectors, as long as he notifies the appropriate congressional committees at least every 180 days that they are seeing such progress.
The move is likely to be sharply criticized by Democrats and Russia hawks, who have called on Trump to take a stronger hand in countering Moscow’s election hacking, aggression in Ukraine and support of the Syrian regime.
If Trump didn’t opt to delay, he would have to impose at least five sanctions on those that knowingly conduct significant transactions with Russia.
The move comes amid the ongoing special counsel probe into Moscow’s hacking efforts during the 2016 election. Trump has repeatedly dismissed the investigation as a “witch hunt” drummed up by Democrats to explain their surprise loss at the ballot box.
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