Despite reports to the contrary, the Trump Administration has not eased sanctions on Russia. Initial reports indicated that President Trump’s Justice Department had reduced sanctions on the FSB, Russia’s security service that replaced the KGB, to allow American companies to sell software to the agency.
Subsequent analysis of the revision by several news agencies indicates that the sanctions on the FSB are still in place, but the change allows American companies to work with the organization to sell products inside Russia. According to the Wall Street Journal, the FSB is more than a security agency. The organization also licenses encryption technology for private businesses in Russia. The purpose of the revision in the Obama sanctions policy is designed to allow US companies to sell products like cellphones and tablets that contain encryption technology. These products must be licensed through the FSB to be imported into Russia.
Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), a strong supporter of sanctions on Russia, told reporters that the change was a “technical fix.” Others have characterized the revision as a “tweak” that benefits American exporters, but not the FSB.
It seems to have been the Russians who fed the false narrative that the change was a major shift in sanctions policy. “This shows that actual joint work on establishing an anti-terrorism coalition is about to begin,” Nikolai Kovalyov, former head of the FSB and current member of the Russian Duma, told Tass. “Without easing these sanctions it would have been impossible to take the next step. These practical actions indicate that US President Donald Trump has been consistent.”
“I haven't eased anything,” RT, the Russian propaganda source, quoted President Trump as saying in a later article.
Press secretary Sean Spicer, quoted in the same article, confirmed, “We are not easing sanctions.”
Snopes quickly clarified the details of the controversy citing Ankit Panda, editor of “The Diplomat,” who explained, “It's a limited $5,000 sanctions relief ceiling that allows the United States to pay the FSB for certain export licenses for American products into Russia. It's a technical form of relief that was planned under the Obama administration.”
Snopes also quoted Doug Jacobson, an attorney who specializes in international trade law, who noted that the sanctions were not intended to prevent US companies from selling to Russian businesses. “They are not the target of the restrictions -- it’s to penalize FSB, not U.S. companies,” Jacobson said. “This doesn’t allow sales to the FSB, that’s still prohibited. It removes this impediment that would restrict U.S. companies from transporting products to otherwise unsanctioned parties in Russia... This was no gift to Putin.”
Originally published on The Resurgent