After briefing senators in a classified setting, the State Department announced that the sanctions regime currently in place was acting as a “deterrent” against Russian aggression and that, therefore, new measures will “not need to be imposed” as required under the law.
The announcement caught lawmakers off guard, including those who co-authored the bipartisan Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) last year. That bill passed in large part to punish Russia for its efforts to influence the U.S. presidential election in 2016. That it was put on the backburner left some on Capitol Hill with the impression, once more, that the Trump administration felt indifferent toward the Kremlin’s influence campaign.
“When the Congress voted for this, the whole point of it was to slap sanctions on these Russian companies that interfered with our election and are doing all kinds of other things,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Daily Beast in an interview. “The legislation itself is not a deterrent if you don’t put teeth behind it. And the teeth behind it are the sanctions.”