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US to hit Russia with new sanctions

Trump and Putin at a G20 summit in Hamburg [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 April, 2018

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The Trump administration has already sanctioned Russia twice in the past four weeks as relations between the two countries deteriorate.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley announced on Monday new sanctions against Russia for enabling its ally the Syrian regime to continue using chemical weapons.

The UN envoy noted Russia has blocked six UN Security Council attempts to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria. 

"They will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use," Haley said, referring to the new sanctions. "Everyone is going to feel it at this point".

"The international community will not allow chemical weapons to come back into our everyday life," she said in an interview aired on Sunday. "The fact he (Assad) was making this more normal and that Russia was covering this up, all that has got to stop."

President Donald Trump launched more than 100 missiles on three chemical weapons sites in Syria on Friday and called the mission "perfectly carried out". However, the Pentagon said there were enough other facilities for the Assad regime to continue using chemical weapons if it chooses. 

Trump was criticised for tweeting "mission accomplished," the same choice of words President George W. Bush used aboard a navy ship just after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. An insurgency would later tie down US forces in the country for years. 

Friday's missile strikes were carefully limited to minimize civilian casualties and avoid direct conflict with Russia, but confusion arose over the extent to which Washington warned Moscow in advance. The Pentagon said it gave no explicit warning. The US ambassador in Moscow, John Huntsman, said in a video, "Before we took action, the United States communicated with" Russia to "reduce the danger of any Russian or civilian casualties".

Russia has military forces, including air defences, in several areas of Syria to support Assad in his long war against anti-regime rebels.

Assad denies he has used chemical weapons, but the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) together with rights groups have ruled the regime has been responsible for many chemical weapons attacks. 

In his televised address from the White House on Friday, Trump said the US was prepared to keep up the economic, diplomatic and military pressure on Assad until he ceases to use chemical weapons. 

The Trump administration has in recent weeks stepped up its action against Russia. The US president has also singled out the Russian president for backing Assad's regime. 

New sanctions against Russia would be the third such measure in the past month. In March, the administration targeted Russian firms for intervening in the 2016 US election. Earlier in April, penalties against Putin's inner circle were announced, including top Kremlin officials. 

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