Trump administration revises sanctions against Russia to allow U.S. tech exports

Express News Global

Published: February 4, 2017


WASHINGTON, U.S. – The Trump administration on Thursday modified recent U.S. sanctions that prevented American companies from exporting certain consumer electronic products to Russia.

The move by the Treasury Department now allows U.S. technology companies to export products such as low-level encrypted electronic devices like cellphones or tablets to Russia through the country’s domestic Federal Security Service (FSB).

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) clarified that U.S. companies could seek licenses from Russia’s FSB to export their goods, so long as the products were not used in Crimea and did not violate earlier sanctions.

The economic sanctions were initially imposed by Obama in 2015 and reinforced against in December last year in response to alleged “malicious cyber-enabled activities” by Russia’s security service in the U.S. election process.

NPR’s John Ydstie said some American companies had complained about the policy “because the FSB controls the licensing needed to sell consumer products including things like cellphones and tablets” to non-sanctioned parties in Russia.

He also said, “A senior Treasury official who also worked on this issue during the Obama administration says the action represents a technical fix to avoid unintended consequences.”

Some experts also felt the decision by the Treasury Department was essentially meant to remove hurdles for American companies.

“This isn’t Trump weakening sanctions,” said Eric Lorber, sanctions consultant at Financial Integrity Network, on Twitter. “Unintended consequences popped up, OFAC dealt with them.”

Denying that the move meant any easing of sanctions against Russia, the Trump administration said the changes were a routine tweaking.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said, “It is a regular course of action that Treasury does often when sanctions are imposed.”

Trump, too, when asked about the decision said, “I haven’t eased anything.”

Russia, meanwhile, praised the move.

According to former FSB director Nikolai Kovalyov, a member of the State Duma, “This shows that actual joint work on establishing an anti-terrorism coalition is about to begin.”

“Without easing these sanctions it would have been impossible to take the next step,” he added.

However, back in Washington, the move was meant with concern by some senators.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., ranking member of a House CIA subcommittee, said, “This is the same group (FSB) that, just a month ago, our intelligence community determined was responsible for the attack on our democracy,” Swalwell told USA TODAY.

“We just made it easier for the same group to import into Russia the tools they could use to hack us or our allies again.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said, “Allowing U.S. companies to do business with the Russian intelligence service (FSB) rewards Russia for its nefarious behavior and emboldens Putin to act out in the future.”

Meanwhile, Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the move.

“First we need to understand what it is all about,” Peskov said, according to TASS.

“If we turn to the rocket engines matter, we will see that our U.S. counterparts never impose sanctions that could damage their own interests.”