Russia threatens retaliatory measures as US imposes fresh sanctions
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Russia threatens retaliatory measures as US imposes fresh sanctions

Moscow accuses Washington of using UK poisoning as a 'contrived excuse' for economic penalties

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and US President Donald Trump attend a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and US President Donald Trump attend a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

MOSCOW — Russia will decide on retaliatory measures to US sanctions imposed over a nerve agent attack in Britain blamed on Moscow, which it denies, the foreign ministry said on Thursday.

“The Russian side will work on developing retaliatory measures,” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told journalists.

The Kremlin earlier Thursday called the latest action by the US State Department “unacceptable.”

The announcement of US sanctions caused the value of the ruble to plunge early Thursday and Russian stock markets to fall.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova leading a briefing, February 10, 2016. (Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Zakharova said the United States was “knowingly presenting demands that are unacceptable to us” as conditions for the sanctions to be lifted.

“We are being threatened with further escalation of sanctions pressure,” she said.

“In this way, the US is consciously taking the path of further heightening of tensions in bilateral relations that have already been brought practically to zero by their efforts.”

She accused Washington of picking the nerve agent poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, as a “contrived excuse” for sanctions.

Russia has denied any involvement in the Skripals’ poisoning and also the subsequent death of a British woman, Dawn Sturgess, after she was exposed to the agent.

The US is trying to play up this “anti-Russian topic as a way to continue demonizing Russia” and make it appear that it is not fulfilling its international obligations, Zakharova said.

Former Russian military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal attends a hearing at the Moscow District Military Court in Moscow on August 9, 2006. (AFP/Kommersant Photo/Yuri Senatorov)

The latest US action follows the Treasury’s imposition of sanctions in March against 19 Russian citizens and five entities for interfering in the 2016 US election — the toughest steps against Moscow since Trump took office.

The move could cut off hundreds of millions of dollars worth of exports to Russia, according to a senior State Department official, who requested anonymity in order to speak about the sanctions.

The official told reporters that the administration decided to impose a “presumption of denial” for the sale to Russia of “national security sensitive” US technologies that require federal government approval.

Such technologies have often been used in items including electronic devices as well as calibration equipment. The exports were previously allowed on a case-by-case basis.

In the event of non-compliance, the official added, a second round of “draconian” sanctions would be given a green light. These could go as far as a ban on Russian airlines using US airports.

Britain said it welcomed the US response to the chemical attack in Salisbury, the sleepy English town where the Skripals were poisoned.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said the sanctions send “an unequivocal message to Russia that its provocative, reckless behavior will not go unchallenged.”

“Thank you USA for standing firm with us on this,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted.

Military forces work on a van in Winterslow, England, on March 12, 2018, as investigations continue into the nerve-agent poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

This week, Britain’s the Guardian newspaper reported London is preparing to ask Moscow to extradite two Russian citizens suspected of carrying out the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

The Skripals survived the attack but a British couple was poisoned by the same Novichok agent in a nearby town, one of whom, 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess, subsequently died.

Moscow has angrily rejected any involvement in the poisoning, plunging diplomatic relations with London into crisis.

The Russian economy is still reeling from international sanctions imposed on Moscow in 2014 over its actions in Ukraine and a crash in oil prices the same year.

While Russia returned to growth in 2017 after two years of recession, it pales in comparison with growth figures seen during Putin’s first two terms in office from 2000 to 2008 thanks to soaring oil prices.

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