Russia Fuming Over 'Categorically Unacceptable' U.S. Sanctions for Former Spy's Poisoning

Russia responded Thursday to the news that the U.S. had issued new sanctions against Moscow over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom, calling the decision “categorically unacceptable.”

Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were both poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent novichok in March. They were found on a bench in Salisbury and rushed to the hospital. The pair ultimately survived, but a British woman died in July after accidentally coming into contact with the deadly nerve agent in a town close to Salisbury.

Intelligence agents in the U.K. blamed Russia for the appearance of novichok in the country, explaining that only a government would have the laboratory and expert knowledge to make such a powerful nerve agent. London said the poisoning of the Skripals was an assassination attempt. The elder Skripal had previously worked as a double agent for both the Kremlin and the U.K.   

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said it also believed that Russia was responsible for the poisonings, adding further support to the U.K.’s conclusion. In response to Moscow’s use of chemical weapons, the U.S. will impose new sanctions that will take effect in two weeks. Under the new penalty, Russian state-owned entities would be prohibited from purchasing certain electronic devices from the U.S.

992881142-594x594 Emergency workers in protective suits conduct a search after a man and woman were exposed to the Novichok nerve agent on July 6 in Salisbury, England. Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Russia has consistently denied its responsibility for the attack on the Skripals. On Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov said that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government believed it was "categorically unacceptable” to link sanctions to the events in the U.K.

“Once again, we deny in the strongest terms the accusations about the possible connection of the Russian state to what happened in Salisbury. This is out of the question. Russia did not and does not have, and could not have, any connection to the use of chemical weapons,” Peskov told reporters Thursday. “What's more, we cannot even say for sure what exactly and how it was used in Britain, since we don't have any information or any response to our proposal for a joint investigation with Britain into this incident, which concerns us greatly. So linking these events is unacceptable to us, and just as with previous U.S. sanctions we believe are absolutely illegal and against international law," he continued.

U.S. sanctions have taken a major toll on Russia’s economy, and the value of the ruble plunged to its lowest level since 2016 in response to Wednesday's news. 

“The practical impact in terms of goods exported to Russia is likely not too significant. Many of these items, which have national security, were already highly scrutinized because of previous sanctions on Russia. It’s the signal these sanctions send that’s significant, and the potential for future sanctions and the ripple effect on Russia’s economy,” Mark Simakovsky, a Russia expert at the Washington-based think tank the Atlantic Council, told Newsweek. “The second stage of these sanctions could involve severe restrictions on the economic relationship between the U.S. and Russia.”

A 1991 law requires the U.S. to use export control laws if a country is determined to have used chemical weapons. Experts said that the new sanctions demonstrated that the administration's policies toward Russia were being implemented according to normal rules and procedures, despite Trump's stated desire to improve the U.S. relationship with Moscow.

"The president likely didn’t appreciate or fully understand that by blaming Russia for these attacks there would be U.S. law requiring a response," Simakovsky said. "What we’re seeing is a normal process, which has defined this administration’s bureaucratic approach to Russia." 

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