Trump Administration Eases Sanctions Banning Electronics Sales to Russian Spy Agencies

President Donald Trump, center, with Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Defense Secretary James Mattis, right, watching, signs an executive action on extreme vetting at the Pentagon in Washington, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday eased economic sanctions on Russia, allowing some cyber-security sales to the Russian Federal Security Service accused of meddling in the U.S. electoral process.

Some Russian officials applauded the move as signaling a thaw in relations with Washington. But several members of Congress decried the move as pandering to Russia and its hacking attempts. The Trump administration, meanwhile, denied any easing of sanctions, describing the changes as routine tweaking of complicated policy.

The move by Treasury makes changes to sanctions initially imposed by President Obama in April 2015 and strengthened again in December, in reaction to alleged “malicious cyber-enabled activities” by Russia’s security service, known as the FSB, in the U.S. electoral process.

The changes by the Office of Foreign Assets Control cover “all transactions and activities” involving the FSB, the successor to the KGB, that were banned by Obama’s executive orders. It specifically eases the ban on sales of information technology products to the FSB.

President Trump disputed the notion that the modifications of earlier sanctions amounted to an easing of sanctions. “I’m not easing … anything,” he told reporters.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the changes do not mark a policy shift, describing them as “a regular course of action” that Treasury takes to address unintended consequences of sanctions.

While the White House tamped down speculation of a policy change, former FSB director Nikolai Kovalyov, a member of the State Duma, saw the move as a sign of improving relations between Moscow and Washington.

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SOURCE: Doug Stanglin