Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump. Both countries are at odds over stringent sanctions that have been proposed by America on Russia. Picture: AFP
RUSSIA yesterday condemned a new round of US sanctions as draconian after news of the measures sent the rouble tumbling to two-year lows and sparked a wider asset sell-off over fears that Moscow was locked in a spiral of never-ending sanctions.

Moscow has been trying to improve battered US-Russia ties with mixed success.

Russia’s political and business leaders were quick to chalk up a summit last month between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin as a victory.

But that initial triumphalism quickly turned sour.

Anger over what some US lawmakers saw as a too-deferential performance by Trump and his failure to confront Putin over Moscow’s alleged meddling in US politics galvanised a new sanctions push against Moscow.

In the latest broadside, the US State Department said on Wednesday it would impose fresh sanctions by month-end after determining that Moscow had used a nerve agent against a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, in Britain, something Moscow denies.

The new sanctions come in two tranches.

The first, which targets US exports of sensitive national-security related goods, comes with deep exemptions and many of the items it covers have already been banned by previous restrictions.

However, the second tranche, activated after 90 days if Moscow fails to provide “reliable assurances” it will no longer use chemical weapons and allow on-site inspections by the United Nations or other internat- ional observer groups, is more serious.

NBC, citing US officials, said the second round of sanctions could include downgrading diplomatic relations, suspending the state airline Aeroflot’s ability to fly to the US and cutting off nearly all exports and imports.

The announcement fuelled already worsening investor sentiment about the possible impact of more US sanctions on Russian assets and the rouble at one point slid by over 1% yesterday against the dollar, hitting a two-year low.

The move also triggered a sell-off in Russian government bonds and the dollar-denominated RTS index fell to its lowest since April 11.

Russia’s embassy in the United States called the new US sanctions draconian and said the reason for the new restrictions - allegations it had poisoned the Skripals in Britain - was far-fetched.

It has long cast the accusations as a Western plot to damage its reputation and provide a convenient pretext for more sanctions.

Russia’s embassy in the United States said Washington’s findings against it in the Skripal case were not backed by evidence.

“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,” the embassy said.

“We have grown accustomed to not hearing any facts or evidence.”

Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter were found slumped unconscious on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury in March after a liquid form of the Novichok type of nerve agent was applied to his home’s front door.

European countries and the United States expelled 100 Russian diplomats after the attack, in the strongest action by President Donald Trump against Russia since he came to office.

Western sanctions have already drastically reduced Western involvement in Russian energy and commodities projects, including large scale financing and exploration of hard-to-recover and deep water resources.

Proposed US legislation prepared by several senators calls on Trump to widen the sanctions to include virtually all Russian energy projects and effectively bar Western companies from any involvement in the country.

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre and a former colonel in the Russian army, said the State Department’s move looked like the latest salvo in what he called a hybrid war.

“Sanctions are the US weapon of choice,” Trenin wrote on Twitter.

“They are not an instrument, but the policy itself.

“Russia will have to brace for more to come over the next several years, prepare for the worst and push back where it can.”