‘I haven’t eased anything,’ Trump says after Treasury amends sanctions on Russian FSB
The procedure, enacted in December by former President Barack Obama over Russia’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential election, forbade all exchanges of US corporations with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), and four more Russia-based entities accused of hacking American institutions ahead of the election.
Obama’s move at the time was branded a “poisoned gift” for the new administration by Aleksey Pushkov, chairman of Russia’s Federation Council Mass Media Committee.
In the amendment to the order, dated February 2, the new administration’s Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control officially enabled American tech companies to make limited transactions with the FSB.
The permission covers a rather narrow range of deals, namely “requesting, receiving, utilizing, paying for, or dealing in [FSB] licenses to import, sell and use information technology products” in Russia. Such deals must not involve exports to Crimea or violate pre-existing US sanctions, and are further capped at $5,000 a year.
Reporters apparently saw the amendment as a step toward easing Obama’s sanctions and were quick to speculate on the matter. However, when they asked the president about it several hours after the announcement had been made by the Treasury, Trump responded dismissively.
“I haven't eased anything,” Trump told reporters, without going into specifics.
Spicer also waved away speculation, but was more outspoken on the matter.
“We are not easing sanctions,” he said, arguing that it is common for Treasury to issue specific amendments to help different US industries, products and services overcome unintended business consequences after sanctions are put in place.
“The Treasury Department — from what I understand, it is a fairly common practice for the Treasury Department, after sanctions are put in place, to go back and to look at whether or not there needs to be specific carve-outs for different either industries or products and services that need to be going back and forth,” the spokesman said.
The new administration did not issue any further explanation to the move. However, just days before his inauguration last month, Trump hinted that the US could lift its sanctions against Russia in exchange for a nuclear reduction deal.
The Kremlin appears to share the idea that the supposed easing of sanctions is nothing out of the ordinary. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists Russia doesn't see it as a step to lifting sanctions altogether.
“We are not inclined to treat this step as easing of sanctions, it is rather a manifestation of American pragmatism,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
“In the spheres where it is beneficial for them, Americans are not that enthusiastic with sanctions and tend to make the system more flexible.”
Ron Paul, a veteran US politician and former senator, told RT that the order to ease some restrictions on the FSB is a step in the right direction, noting that Trump can’t be any “bolder” at the moment while awaiting reaction from the US political establishment.
“I think he wants to reduce the sanctions and I think he’s going to get a lot of heat for it. A lot of people believe in all the rhetoric and the discourse about ‘The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming, we’ve got to punish them.’ So he has to deal with this more gently. So he puts on this example of trying to reduce sanctions, and he doesn’t remove them, but I think he is sort of testing the waters,” Paul said.