By SUSANNAH GEORGE and MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — New sanctions against Russia will be imposed later this month for illegally using a chemical weapon in an attempted assassination of a former spy and his daughter in Britain earlier this year, the United States said.
The penalties come despite President Donald Trump's efforts to improve relations with Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, and his harsh criticism of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the U.S. move runs contrary to a "constructive" atmosphere at the Trump-Putin summit last month, and he strongly denied any Russian role in the poisoning in Britain.
"In our view, these and earlier restrictions are absolutely unlawful and don't conform to international law," Peskov said.
The State Department said Wednesday the U.S. made the determination this week that Russia had used the Novichok nerve agent to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, and that sanctions would follow. It said Congress is being notified of the Aug. 6 determination and that the sanctions would take effect on or around Aug. 22, when the finding is to be published in the Federal Register.
Those sanctions will include the presumed denial of export licenses for Russia to purchase many items with national security implications, according to a senior State Department official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to do so by name.
The U.S. made a similar determination in February when it found that North Korea used a chemical weapon to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half brother at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2017.
Skripal and his daughter were poisoned by the Novichok military-grade nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury in March. Both eventually recovered. Britain has accused Russia of being behind the attack, which the Kremlin vehemently denies.
Months later, two residents of a nearby town with no ties to Russia were also poisoned by the deadly toxin. Police believe the couple accidentally found a bottle containing Novichok. One of them died.
The U.S. had joined Britain in condemning Russia for the Skripal poisoning and joined with European nations in expelling Russian diplomats in response, but it had yet to make the formal determination that the Russian government had "used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law or has used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals."
British Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed the U.S. decision. Her Downing Street office issued a statement saying the move sends "an unequivocal message to Russia that its provocative, reckless behavior will not go unchallenged."
Peskov insisted that "there can't be any talk about Russia having any relation to the use of chemical weapons," adding that Britain has failed to present any evidence to back the claim and stonewalled Russia's proposal for a joint probe.