The U.S. administration plays down the significance of this decision and rejects the hypothesis that it may be the first step toward completely removing trade restrictions.
The first sanction against Russia has been lifted less than a week after the phone call between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. This news has been announced by the Treasury Department, which describes the act as a technical correction. However, there is a strong feeling that this is the first brick to fall off the tower of sanctions built by the U.S. (in agreement with its European allies) after Crimea was annexed.
According to the Treasury Department’s announcement, the change concerns the authorization of “limited” transactions with Russia’s Federal Security Service, the heir to the KGB. The Treasury Department has also labeled the step as a “minor easing” of the restriction.** Nevertheless, it consists of the removal of the Obama administration’s ban on transactions amounting to more than $5,000 per year.
Even the State Department – now headed by former Exxon chief executive Rex Tillerson, who was confirmed by the Senate and whose friendship with Putin is well known – has quickly added that today’s move is a “very technical fix.” The reason behind the modification concerns “avoiding unintended consequences” for America’s government activities with Russia. Finally, the White House has stepped in to reiterate that this is not about removing sanctions (yet), but rather about a “routine adjustment.”**
Putting so much effort into minimizing the situation does not ease the doubts that something is changing. Why were the “unintended consequences” of that restriction not viewed as inconvenient during Obama’s presidency? Why start out by removing a sanction regarding Russia’s Federal Security Service after all the revelations from the CIA about this very same security service meddling in America’s election campaign? What could possibly be “routine” about such a delicate decision on such an explosive issue?
As always, Trump moves too quickly and implements his election promises at a speed beyond imagination. We must not forget that it was the Kremlin that provided the most detailed accounts of Saturday’s phone call with Putin. The shared resolution of both leaders to “normalize” bilateral business relations was shown clearly in these accounts. No mention of sanctions (thus far).
It boggles the mind that the first sanction to be lifted concerns the former KGB. Additionally, this decision essentially authorizes the sale of cybersecurity technology. This is the very same sector where Russians proved themselves to be very advanced, to the point of repeatedly hacking and raiding several American websites belonging to the government or to the Democratic Party.
After all, the sanction in question, first imposed by Obama and now loosened by Trump, was meant to punish attacks by Russian hackers. At the very least, this announcement is a gesture by which Trump means to minimize the events related to cyber espionage and dispel suspicions concerning his own election. However, this act is so provocative that – no matter how much the White House plays it down – it inevitably triggers a flurry of speculation about "what Trump and Putin talked about."
*Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.
**Editor’s note: The original quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified, although news articles have used these words to describe the government’s action.