Russia fails to meet chemical weapons deadline

The State Department told lawmakers Tuesday that Russia failed to certify that it is not using chemical weapons, missing a deadline set back in August after the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the United Kingdom earlier this year.

The declaration, widely expected, was met with frustration by lawmakers who pointed out that the administration should also have been ready to announce a second tranche of sanctions against Moscow. The delay, congressional sources said, once again raised questions as to why the administration seems to be drag its feet on punishing Russia.

“Today, the Department informed Congress we could not certify that the Russian Federation met the conditions required by the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a written statement.

Rep. Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tuesday that “no one should be surprised that Vladimir Putin refuses to swear off future use of weapons-grade nerve agents.” And he blasted the administration for missing its own deadline.

‘It is unacceptable’

“It is unacceptable that the administration lacks a plan — or even a timeline — for action on the second round of mandatory sanctions required by U.S. law,” Royce said in a statement.

“In recent years, Russia has engaged in a pattern of brazen poisonings — including the March 14 nerve agent attack carried out on the soil of the United Kingdom” against Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, Royce continued. “The Trump administration needs to act quickly to uphold its own determination. Hesitation only encourages more Russian aggression.”

Nauert said that the State Department is “consulting with Congress regarding next steps as required 90 days after the initial determination on August 6, 2018.” She added that “we intend to proceed in accordance with the terms of the CBW Act, which directs the implementation of additional sanctions.”

In September, a State Department official told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the agency would be ready to come down hard on Russia in November.

Acting Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Manisha Singh said at a September 14 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that “we are well aware of the impending deadline on the second tranche of sanctions to be issued against Russia on the CBW.”

She added that “we are looking at this November deadline and absolutely we plan to impose a very severe second round of sanctions under the CBW. The global community will not tolerate behavior such as we have seen from Russia, especially in poisoning and killing its own citizens.”

Royce had initially asked the administration in March to see whether Russia had violated the 1991 law. After the White House failed to respond, Royce wrote again in July, forcing the review that led to the August determination.

That request led the Trump administration to determine Russia was indeed responsible for the Skripal attack, which required that the US impose a first tranche of sanctions targeting certain US exports to Russia that could also have military uses.

The August determination started another countdown: within 90 days, the US had to get assurances from Russia that it was no longer using chemical or biological weapons, would not do so in the future and was willing to allow onsite inspections by impartial observers from the United Nations or another organization.

If Russia did not meet those demands, the US would then “have to consider whether to impose a second tranche of sanctions as specified by the statute,” a senior State Department official told CNN at the time.

The State Department did not comment Tuesday on whether a second tranche of sanctions will be announced over the next few days.

Congressional committees were notified of the decision in a conference call with the State Department on Tuesday, a congressional source told CNN.