The US government unveiled sanctions against Russia related to the allegedly Skripal affair, parts of which Moscow can prevent only if they meet demanding conditions including allowing international observers into the country to conduct intrusive chemical weapons inspections, sources said.
The new sanctions are tied to a March allegedly chemical weapons attack on former GRU officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, in the United Kingdom.
However, Russian representatives in the United Nations said Moscow did not produce Novichok, the nerve agent used in the incident, and did not plan or carry out any attacks on foreign soil.
This also comes at a time the US denies access to anyone to come near Pentagon controlled biolabs in Georgia. Investigative journalist Dilyana Gaytandzheiva on August 8 reported that she has been denied access to a Pentagon-controlled biolab in Tiblisi, noting that it is only accessible to US citizens with security clearance.
The timing of the sanctions, the second wave of which a State Department official admitted were "draconian," comes just as a delegation led by US Senator Rand Paul is visiting Russia to try and improve relations between the two countries.
The State Department claimed in a press release on Wednesday that the new wave of sanctions come after the United States concluded earlier this week that Russia’s alleged involvement in the Skripal attack represented a breach of international statutes.
A senior State Department official said in a conference call with reporters shortly after the statement was released that the first wave of sanctions will take effect on or around August 22. The United States will impose a second round of sanctions three months after the initial sanctions on August 22 if Washington cannot verify that Moscow has met the criteria under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act (CBW), the official said, citing provisions in the act.
The official said the second batch includes sanctions that are "in general more draconian than the first round."
These sanctions may include downgrading or suspending diplomatic bilateral relations, suspending Aeroflot flights, prohibiting bank loans, and cutting off exports and imports between both countries, and other restrictions as outlined in the act under Section 307(B).
The United States will also waive US foreign assistance to the Russian people, and items related to safety and commercial passenger aviation.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May, according to a statement released by her office, welcomed the new batch of US sanctions.
The Russian Embassy in Washington was outraged after being told about these so-called "draconian" measures based on wild allegations.
"On August 8, 2018, our Deputy Chief of Mission was informed in the State Department of new ‘draconian’ sanctions against Russia for far-fetched accusations of using the ‘Novichok’ nerve agent against a UK citizen S. Skripal and his daughter," the Russian Embassy in the United States said in a statement on Facebook on Wednesday.
The diplomatic mission accused the United States of an "assembly line" style of imposing unsubstantiated sanctions on Russia and refusing to communicate.
"We grew accustomed to not hearing any facts or evidence. The American side refused to answer our follow-up questions, claiming that the information is classified. However, we were told that the US has enough intel to conclude that ‘Russia is to blame,’" the statement said.