US releases Russian defense firms sanctions list

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Under pressure from an impatient Congress, President Donald Trump’s administration belatedly published a list of Russian firms and agencies Friday to comply with a new sanctions law.

Trump had opposed the law, which restricted his authority to loosen measures imposed to punish Russia for its meddling in Ukraine and alleged interference in US politics.

But he begrudgingly signed off on the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” in August after lawmakers passed it with a veto-proof majority.

Under the act, the State Department was obliged to draw up within 60 days a list of contractors with ties to Russia’s military and intelligence agencies.

On Thursday it finally sent the list to Congress, 25 days late, and on Friday it published it on its website.

The companies named include mainstays of Russia’s export industry such as the huge military arms and vehicle supplier Rosoboronexport and iconic firearms pioneer Kalashnikov.

Appearing on the list does not mean that the firms themselves face sanctions, but measures may be taken against entities that conduct “significant transactions” with them.

Some of the firms and entities listed are already subject to direct US sanctions under separate laws or executive orders.

A senior State Department official said the administration shares Congress’ intent to respond “to Russia’s malign behavior with respect to the crisis in eastern Ukraine, cyber intrusions and attacks, and human rights abuses.”

– Russian hackers –

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said that by banning transactions with the listed firms the US could limit “the sale of advanced Russian weaponry around the world.”

Russia’s arms export industry is a major plank of its economy and its clients include not only US foes like Iran and Syria, but important defense partners like India.

Some of Washington’s allies in the Middle East have flirted with buying Russian air defense systems and some NATO allies in eastern Europe still use Russian-designed equipment.

The list of 39 entities includes Russia’s main intelligence agencies — the FSB, SVR and GRU — and PO KSI, a tech company that the US has alleged trains Russian hackers.

Among the manufacturers and design bureaux listed for their ties to the military are state and para-statal agencies as well as nominally private companies.

These include aviation giants like Sukhoi and Tupolev and specialists in space research and missile technologies.

The list was published this week after complaints from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers that the administration appeared to be dragging its feet.

On Thursday, Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in recent weeks a sharp critic of Trump, welcomed the delivery.

– Election interference –

But he warned: “Congress will expect thorough and timely consultation until full implementation is complete.”

The United States has already imposed a range of sanctions on Russia in response to human rights violations and its actions in Ukraine, but the new law goes further.

It will doubtless further chill already frosty US ties with President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, which once hoped that Trump’s election would hasten the end of such measures.

A display by Russian arms manufacturer Kalashnikov which said it would give journalists a 10 percen...

A display by Russian arms manufacturer Kalashnikov, which said it would give journalists a 10 percent discount

Vasily MAXIMOV, AFP/File

Any prospect of rapid detente has been wrecked by a diplomatic stand-off and by the ongoing investigation into Russia’s alleged role in Trump’s 2016 election victory.

The president himself has angrily dismissed suggestions that Putin weighed in by directing an army of hackers and internet trolls to smear Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton.

But US intelligence agencies believe Moscow at least tried to influence the result, and a US special prosecutor is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded in this.

Against this background, when Congress passed its act it included language to limit Trump’s ability to ease sanctions on Russia unilaterally, angering the White House.

Nevertheless, the State Department officials who presented the list insisted the administration will cooperate with Congress in implementing the sanctions.

“On the question about interference in the election, I think it’s very clear. The intelligence community has established very clearly what that issue is,” one said.

“We will be implementing the sanctions legislation robustly in keeping with Congress’ intent and the facts that precipitated that legislation, including interference in our election.”