Russia Defiant As Trump Ratchets Up Pressure on Moscow Over Attempted Skripal Poisoning

By Dimitri Simes | August 5, 2019 | 5:53pm EDT
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova holds a press briefing in Moscow. (Photo: Foreign Ministry)

Moscow ( – Russia responded defiantly to the Trump administration’s decision to impose a new round of sanctions over the March 2018 attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, pledging not to change its domestic or foreign policy course as a result of growing U.S. pressure.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissed the latest sanctions package against Moscow, asserting it would have no impact on Russia’s conduct.

“In recent years, the architects of the sanctions pressure on Russia have tried many things, but failed,” Zakharova said. “The policy of seeking to force Russia to change its foreign and domestic policy and to abandon its own interests in deference to the US claim to global domination, has failed.”

“The fact that the current sanctions will be the 72nd in a series that goes back to 2011 clearly shows the failure of all previous attempts at exerting pressure and the futility of the new ones,” she added. “Every time, Washington only shows its weakness.”

The comments came after the State Department on Friday announced new sanctions against Russia, accused of using a deadly nerve agent in an attempt to kill Skripal, an ex-Russian military intelligence officer who also served as a double agent for Britain’s M16 agency.

“Today, pursuant to the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act), the United States is announcing a second round of sanctions on Russia for its use of a ‘novichok’ nerve agent in an attempt to assassinate Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal in the United Kingdom on March 4, 2018,” it said.

Under this new round of sanctions, the U.S. will oppose international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund extending any loans or assistance to Russia, limit the ability of American banks to purchase Russian sovereign debt and lend to the Russian government, and place export licensing restrictions for “Department of Commerce-controlled goods and technology.”

After news of the U.S. sanctions package broke, the value of the Russian ruble fell by 1.2 percent to 65.1 rubles for each dollar. However, its value had already begun to recover by Monday.

The Trump administration’s move earned bipartisan praise in Congress, with House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), jointly commending the decision.

Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, England, on March 4 last year. Although they spent several weeks hospitalized in critical condition, the father and daughter ultimately recovered, as did a police officer who also fell seriously ill after responding to the incident.

After an investigation, British authorities concluded that Russian intelligence operatives had poisoned the Skripals using Novichok, a nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union. Moscow has denied any involvement in the attack, with some officials speculating that the assassination attempt was an inside job by the United Kingdom.

The incident became a major point of tension between Russia and the West. The U.S. and its European allies responded by expelling a total of more than 100 Russian diplomats as an act of protest.

In July last year, a British woman died in a town near Salisbury, evidently after accidental exposure to a perfume bottle containing Novichok that was used in the original incident. A male friend was also infected, but recovered.

The death of Dawn Sturgess turned the police investigation into a murder inquiry.

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