US eases some restrictions on dealing with Russian Intel, but says 'no shift of policy'

The US is partially easing restrictions on the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) imposed under the previous US administration over Moscow’s alleged meddling in American elections, but notes it does not represent a shift in its policy.

A respective  has been published on the website of the US Department of Treasury. The agency states it “authorizes certain transactions” with the FSB “that are necessary and ordinarily incident to requesting certain licenses and authorizations for the importation, distribution, or use of certain information technology products in the Russian Federation.”

The ruling also allows transactions required for certain “actions or investigations involving the FSB,” the document states. The paper, however, did not elaborate further or offer concrete fields of cooperation where the ruling will be applicable.

Spokesperson for the White House, Sean Spicer, said the move represents a common practice by the Treasury Department of reviewing restrictions regarding certain issues.

“From what I understand it is a regular course of action," Spicer said.

He noted that this is not a U-turn and does not “represent shift in policy.” The official did not comment further, referring all questions to the Treasury Department.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for the Russian President Vladimir Putin, said “one should first understand what it [easing of sanctions] is about,” before giving a detailed response to the steps. He noted that the US never adopts sanctions when it infringes on its needs.

The  on the FSB were put in place under the previous Obama administration in December 2016. It alleged that Russian intelligence, along with other security services - with the Kremlin’s backing - allegedly meddled in the US Presidential elections in November. Washington has so far offered no solid proof for the allegations.

Moscow has repeatedly denied any such involvement. 

Russia is currently also subjected to a US sanction regime over the Ukrainian crisis. President Donald Trump said earlier this year that he would consider lifting parts of it in return for Moscow’s cooperation on combatting terrorists in Syria and nuclear weapons reduction. He stressed though that “it is very early” to decide on such moves just yet.

The easing of restrictions on the FSB marks an attempt by the White House to re-establish closer ties with Moscow, despite Washington’s attempts to downplay the move, a former UK diplomat, Craig Murray has told RT.

"The White House shows every sign of rather sensibly wanting to reset relationships with Russia and move away from the continued confrontation we were seeing before. But on the other hand they are sensitive to rather crazy allegations being made about Donald Trump and Russian intelligence," Murray said. Thus, the new administration does not want “to take it too head on.”

The diplomat noted that the move is also a kind of a "small start" while “testing the political water" including among the Republican faithful. Murray claimed that alleged hacking of the Democratic camp by Russia is simply a "nonsense story" which he hopes would soon "die away."

Speculating on the potential development of bilateral ties between Moscow and Washington, Murray said "there has been every sign" that Trump is looking to fix the damaged relationship.

“One thing you have to say about Trump is [that] he is unusually assertive in his first week or so in office, in doing the things he said he would do before he got elected.”